Parties in legal tussle over control of Virginia state Senate

PORTSMOUTH, Va Mon Dec 5, 2011 8:58pm EST

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PORTSMOUTH, Va (Reuters) - Democrats in what is seen as a potentially key swing state in next year's presidential election filed a legal challenge on Monday to block Republicans from controlling Virginia's state Senate.

Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus chair Donald McEachin filed the lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court after last month's general election resulted in a 20-20 split between the two parties.

The Republicans had claimed control of the chamber, which was previously controlled by the Democrats, whose lawsuit seeks to block the Republican lieutenant governor from casting a tie-breaker vote in how the Senate organizes.

McEachin said the suit was seeking a "declaratory judgment" acknowledging that Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling "does not have the constitutional right to cast a vote breaking the expected tie" over the organization.

"This willingness to ignore the evenly divided results of the election is unfair and unacceptable," McEachin said.

The suit also seeks a temporary injunction preventing Bolling from voting on organization until the issue is resolved, McEachin said, adding that the lieutenant governor was not elected to the Senate and "in Virginia, only an elected member of the Senate can vote on the rules of the Senate."

A spokeswoman for Bolling said Democrats were simply "trying to achieve in court what they could not achieve at the ballot box."

"We strongly believe the lieutenant governor has the authority to cast votes on organizational and procedural matters, but we will not comment any further on pending litigation," Bolling's spokeswoman Ibbie Hedrick said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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