Virginia’s dramatic House of Delegates recount shows the power of one vote

Democrats appear to have created a rare 50-50 tie in Virginia's House of Delegates with one single vote.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
CREDIT: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Every vote really does count.

Democrat Shelly Simonds appears to have flipped a Republican-held seat Tuesday in Virginia’s House of Delegates by a margin of just one vote. Her opponent, Republican David Yancey, had a 10-vote lead ahead of a recount Tuesday, but in the recount Simonds garnered 11,608 votes to Yancey’s 11,607.

Simonds’ election needs to be certified by a panel of three judges (which is scheduled for Wednesday), but if it holds, it will reshape Virginia’s political future.

“I knew it was going to be a roller coaster ride and the counts were going to change and votes were going to shift around. but I had faith in the system and final outcome,” Simonds told the Washington Post. “This is part of a huge wave election in Virginia where voters came out in record numbers to force a change in Virginia, and I’m really proud to be part of that change and part of that wave election.”


Simonds and other Democrats overcame aggressive partisan gerrymandering — the act of shaping voting districts in order to give one party an edge — in the commonwealth to win their 50 seats. Virginia is increasingly tilting blue in recent elections: Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016, and Barack Obama won it twice. In November, Democrats claimed victory in the races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general — all statewide seats.

But Virginia’s history of gerrymandering means that, despite a majority of statewide support for Democrats, Republicans were expected to comfortably keep their 16-seat majority in the House. Instead, Democrats stormed to victory. Now, the rare 50-50 tie will force negotiations about committee chairs and about who will serve as speaker.

There could, however, be more drama to come. On Wednesday, there will be a recount in District 68 where a Democrat leads by 336 votes, and on Thursday there will be a recount in District 28, where a Republican leads by 82 votes. (Democrats are seeking a new election in that district because of a ballot mix-up, too.)

But Republicans in the House of Delegates did concede that they’ve lost their majority after Tuesday’s recount.

“After a close recount it appears the citizens of the 94th District have elected Shelly Simonds to the Virginia House of Delegates,” the party said in a statement. “Before the work of governing on behalf of our constituents can begin, the House of Delegates as an institution must organize itself in accordance with the Constitution of Virginia, its Rules, and the body’s longstanding custom and practice. We stand ready to establish a bipartisan framework under which the House can operate efficiently and effectively over the next two years.”