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Virginia State House Race Winner Will Be Decided 'By Lot'


Yesterday morning we told you the power of one vote. That was Democrat Shelly Simonds' winning margin after a recount in a state House race in Virginia. Well, was is the operative word here because when a panel of judges reviewed the ballots, they decided that one uncounted vote should be counted in favor of her Republican opponent David Yancey. And so that has evened the result. Both Yancey and Simonds now have 11,608 votes, and it is now likely the winner will be determined by drawing lots. To make all of this even more high stakes, Republicans currently have a one-seat majority in the lower chamber of the legislature. A victory by Simonds would force the parties to share power. Wow. Let's turn to Jordan Pascale, the General Assembly reporter with The Virginian-Pilot, to talk about this.

Hi, Jordan.

JORDAN PASCALE: Good morning.

GREENE: Weirdest story you've ever covered?

PASCALE: Yeah. I would say by a lot.

GREENE: (Laughter). It sounds that way. So I mean, this entire race comes down to one ballot that initially wasn't counted. Now it's being counted. Have you seen this ballot? What's the issue here?

PASCALE: Yeah. So this ballot was brought in court yesterday, and it is a pretty irregular ballot. We have Scantron sheets in Virginia, and in this particular race, this person, whoever it is, filled out bubbles for both Shelly Simonds and David Yancey. On Shelly Simonds's bubble, there's a little slash through it. And yesterday the judges decided what that voter's intent was, and they said that was a mark saying that they did not want to vote for Shelly Simonds so decided to go ahead and give that to David Yancey.

GREENE: This is amazing. I mean, this is one voter who, you know, woke up that morning probably and had no idea that this vote might make a difference in, I mean, some pretty big issues, right?

PASCALE: Absolutely. I mean, you know, we're talking power sharing in the house. This could be Medicaid expansion. It could be minimum wage increases. That sort of thing. But you go back to November 7, which seems like forever ago now, and, you know, it was thought at the time that, you know, Democrats weren't going to pick up these 15 seats. We woke up the next day and - or, you know, that night, and all of a sudden, you know, this is a real possibility. And this recount came down to 10 votes initially so this was the best chance that Democrats had to get this power sharing, and now it's kind of in question.

GREENE: OK. So what is going to determine that? The race is now a tie, and whether or not Republicans keep their majority or if there's power sharing will be determined by drawing lots. What in the world does that mean?

PASCALE: Drawing lots, yeah. It's kind of this archaic Virginia code term, but it basically means picking a random winner. There was some confusion early on as to whether that was going to be flipping a coin or drawing cards or how that works, but talked to Virginia Department of Elections officials and the board there, and they said they have these old film canisters that they use in picking the order of ballots. And the way that they're going to do it, I guess, is to put slips of paper in these film canisters, put that in a bowl and pick the winner. So that's how it's going to happen.

GREENE: That's extraordinary. Democrats must be going through - I mean, they did a big victory dance Tuesday thinking that they had this power sharing, and now it's all up in the air.

PASCALE: Yeah. Yeah, they're looking at legal options, obviously. But, yeah, right now we are kind of in this limbo of, you know, who's really the true winner, and it's coming down to film canisters (laughter).

GREENE: To film canisters. All right. Jordan Pascale is the General Assembly reporter for The Virginian-Pilot. Jordan, thanks.

PASCALE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.