RICHMOND, Va. -- A pair of film canisters. A ceramic bowl. A quick swirl and that’s all it took to pick the winner of a hotly contested Virginia House of Delegates seat – where the contest was improbably tied.
After weeks of political drama, the Virginia Board of Elections drew the name of Republican incumbent David Yancey out of a ceremonial blue and white ceramic bowl to determine the certified winner of the Virginia House of Delegates 94th District seat.
Democrat Shelly Simonds, who sat next to her family and watched as James Alcorn, the Chairman of the Board of Elections, announced her opponent's name to a packed room inside the Patrick Henry Room in Richmond's Capitol Square, did not concede in the aftermath of the drawing, leaving open the possibility of an additional recount.
Following weeks of heated legal battles and protestations from both sides to determine the outcome of the race, the method for picking a winner was simple -- both names were typed on a sheet of paper, placed in separate, new, Amazon-bought film canisters, then stirred around in the ceramic bowl made by a local artisan. Alcorn, the Chairman, picked out the winning name by hand.
"Today we have witnessed an unprecedented event in the history of the commonwealth of Virginia," said Vice Chairman of the Virginia Board of Elections Claire Wheeler.
The last time the state of Virginia drew a name out of a bowl was 1971. But this time more was at stake, as the winner could sway who is picked as Speaker of the House and number of people on committees.
"This has never been done before for the longest-running legislative body in the New World," said Wheeler.
After the Democrats swept Virginia races in November, this statewide race had the power to determine the balance of the Virginia House of Delegates. Republicans have held control of the House for 17 years, but this rare tie in Virginia could have brought the House to 50 Democrats, and 50 Republicans, allowing Democrats a little more wiggle room to push through items in their legislative agenda.
Initially, Yancey, who did not attend Thursday's drawing due to the snow storm that affected his coastal Virginia home, won by 10 votes, but after a recount, the votes were tied 11,608 to 11,608. One ballot came in question over a confusing mark, causing the race to draw comparisons to Florida's hanging chad fiasco in the 2000 presidential election.
With Yancey's win today, the House will be at 51 Republicans, 49 Democrats, allowing Republicans to likely hold onto their control of House committees.
Still, Simonds said she was not conceding the race but instead will take time to reflect on a run that has brought unprecedented national attention to the state race.
"At this moment I am not conceding but I am reflecting on a very interesting campaign and a very hard fought campaign," she said.
Simonds could potentially ask for a second recount, which would delay the seating of the race's winner until after the House convenes on January 10.
In a gaggle with reporters following the drawing, Simonds said that it was a "sad conclusion for me and the people of Virginia who needed Medicaid expansion, which was really on the line here."
Simonds cited the support of Emily's List in helping her as a female candidate, and said she plans to run again.
"This race was really the pale end of a blue wave," said Simonds of Democratic wins in the state. "And people better get ready."
Pledging to serve all the residents of the Newport News constituency, Yancey 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.”