Contested Election in Virginia Shows the Power of Every Vote

Jan 05, 2018

A recent House of Delegates race in Virginia played out in the national spotlight due to its razor-thin margin, the back-and-forth results between candidates Shelly Simonds and David Yancey, and the political stakes associated with the ultimate winner.

Those who have followed the race remember that on Election Day, results showed Yancey as the victor with a margin of ten votes. A later recount named Simonds as the winner by one vote. Then on December 20, a three-judge election panel declared one ballot not tallied during the recount should count for Yancey, tying the race. The winner was scheduled to be determined by lot – the first time the state of Virginia has settled a tied election through a random draw in over 45 years – before lawyers for Simonds filed a motion asking the three-judge election panel to reconsider.

Today, the Chairman of the Virginia Board of Elections selected David Yancey as the winner through a random draw of a slip of paper out of a bowl. It appears that the drawing will not bring an end to this contested election, as Simonds has said she will not concede. She can still request another recount or ask the courts to intervene.

No matter which candidate ultimately is declared the next delegate to represent Virginia’s 94th district, the race has offered a powerful teaching moment about American elections and the impact of every single vote. Close races decided by a handful of votes happen every election cycle, particularly in regional elections.

It is not unheard of for elections to be decided by one single vote, or when candidates are in a dead heat, for the outcome to be determined a coin toss, or picking a name from a bowl. I often reference a quote from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who said during a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing a few years ago: “Presidential elections get the most attention, but every year, there are thousands of state and local elections in Ohio, and in the last 15 months alone, 70 elections were decided by one vote or tied.”

Local elections, whether for candidates or referendums, have a dramatic impact on our daily lives. It is in these elections that the communities we live in are shaped, and the local leaders who represent voters are selected. Yet, turnout for local elections is low and the voters who do participate often don’t represent the diversity of political opinions in the community. 

If there is one lesson I hope voters take away from the contested election in Virginia, long after a final decision is made, it is that their vote is crucially important in local elections. One vote does have the power to turn the tide towards one candidate or another and determine the leaders representing your community. That’s why the time to engage isn’t just during national elections, but also during local elections. The person who didn’t show up to vote in the Virginia race even could have decided which party controlled the state legislature. 

As Simonds herself has said, “This is the American way. We live in a country where you can win by one vote.” 

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