Republicans keep control of Virginia state House after tie-breaker

RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - Republicans kept control of Virginia’s House of Delegates on Thursday after their candidate won a lottery-style drawing to resolve a tied race, but the losing Democrat said she might challenge the results.

As cameras clicked in a packed room in Richmond, the state elections board chairman pulled a film canister containing Republican incumbent David Yancey’s name from a blue-and-white ceramic bowl loaned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The win over Democrat Shelly Simonds gives Republicans a slim 51-49 advantage in seats when the legislature’s session starts on Wednesday, letting them determine the House speaker and committee chairmen.

The tie-breaking draw, Virginia’s first since 1971, was unprecedented because of its impact on the House, board Vice Chairwoman Clara Belle Wheeler said.

“This has never been done before for the longest-running, oldest legislative body, if you will, in the New World,” she said after the drawing.

Simonds told reporters she was weighing her options, raising the prospect of a second recount in a race that has seen several twists since the November vote.

“At this moment, I am not conceding,” she said.

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Yancey initially appeared to have won the contest in southeastern Virginia’s 94th District by 10 votes. Then a recount showed Simonds beating Yancey by one vote. But after a court ruled that a disputed ballot should be counted for Yancey, the race was left in a tie.

Carl Tobias, an expert in constitutional law at the University of Richmond, said Simonds probably would opt for a fast recount by election officials, although the House could end up deciding the race.

Yancey would not be seated in the case of a recount. But Republicans would still control the House by a 50-49 margin, despite Democrats’ massive gains in Virginia’s statehouse elections in November.

Yancey, prevented by a winter storm from attending the drawing, said in a statement, “The election is behind us, the outcome is clear, and my responsibility now is to begin the work I was re-elected to do.”

Republicans also control the state Senate. Democrat Ralph Northam is to be sworn in as governor on Jan. 13.

A second House race with a Republican winner remains in dispute. A hearing is set for Friday in a federal lawsuit over the 28th District election, where at least 147 ballots were assigned to the wrong districts.

Reporting by Gary Robertson and Colleen Jenkins; Writing by Ian Simpson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and James Dalgleish