The power of a single vote in Virginia (Updated)

Nothing pisses me off more than the the people I encounter who tell me they don’t bother to vote because they feel their vote doesn’t count. By not voting, they ensure that this is true.

One of the first house races I worked on in Arizona many years ago was decided in favor of the Democratic candidate by something like 28 votes after an automatic recount.  Don’t tell me that every vote doesn’t count.

Cartoon_13The “blue wave” election in Virginia in November had several state legislative races remaining to be decided by a recount. On Tuesday, one recount was decided by a single vote. And that legislative race gave Democrats shared power in the Virginia legislature. In Virginia, a 11,608-to-11,607 Lesson in the Power of a Single Vote:

The Democratic wave that rose on Election Day in Virginia last month delivered a final crash on the sand Tuesday when a Democratic challenger defeated a Republican incumbent by a single vote, leaving the Virginia House of Delegates evenly split between the two parties.

The victory by Shelly Simonds, a school board member in Newport News, was a civics lesson in every-vote-counts as she won 11,608 to 11,607 in a recount conducted by local election officials.

Ms. Simonds’s win means a 50-50 split in the State House, where Republicans had clung to a one-seat majority after losing 15 seats last month in a night of Democratic victories up and down the ballot, which were widely seen as a rebuke to President Trump. Republicans have controlled the House for 17 years.

“I just can’t believe it, but it sounds like it’s pretty solid,” an excited Ms. Simonds, speaking from a bar with the sounds of celebration in the background, told reporters on a conference call. She said she was in awe of the recount process, an example of what she called good government, in which there were no arguments between Democrats and Republican observers. “It was a beautiful thing to see democracy in action.”

Although results are not official until certified by a three-judge panel on Wednesday, state Democrats declared victory, and Republican leaders in the House congratulated Ms. Simonds. “There were no challenged ballots so nothing for the court to review,” leaders of the Democratic caucus said in a statement.

“Fifty-fifty is an unprecedented event in the 400-year history of the House of Delegates,” said David J. Toscano, the House Democratic leader.

Ms. Simonds’s single-vote victory will enter election annals along with rare other razor-thin majorities. In Mississippi last year, a State House race that ended in a tie was decided in favor of the Democrat by a drawing of straws, before being reversed by a Republican partisan challenge in the State Legislature.

Iowa has been known to use coin tosses to settle tied results in its presidential caucuses. In the 2000 presidential election, when a complicated paper ballot in Florida led officials to examine “hanging chads” with eyepieces and only 537 votes separated George W. Bush from Al Gore, the Supreme Court ultimately made the call a month after Election Day.

* * *

Democrats are still contesting one race with an 82-vote margin in a district where 147 people received the wrong ballots. A lawsuit requesting a new election is in the courts. If the Democratic candidate, Joshua Cole, somehow ends up the victor, that would give his party a 51-49 majority in the House.

Still, the divided chamber was welcome news to Governor-elect Ralph Northam, a Democrat who as of January will not have to face Republican majorities in both houses of the General Assembly like his outgoing predecessor, Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Virginia Republicans narrowly control the State Senate, whose members were not on the ballot this year, 21 to 19.

But control of the evenly divided House could be awkward. In the Senate, the lieutenant governor can break a tie; there is no such mechanism in the House. The choice of a House speaker must be negotiated between the parties. Power sharing is likely to lead to more bipartisan deals.

Mr. Toscano called the selection of the next House speaker “the question of the night” but added that who holds the gavel is less important than deciding which legislation advances. He and others suggested Democrats would be able to advance long-stifled priorities like health care and the minimum wage.

* * *

Republican House leaders expressed the desire to work with colleagues across the aisle. “We stand ready to establish a bipartisan framework under which the House can operate efficiently and effectively over the next two years,” the Republican leadership said in a statement.

Ms. Simonds is not the first member of the Virginia House to pull off an improbably close victory.

In 1991, a former Virginia delegate named Jim Scott won a race by one vote and was nicknamed “Landslide Jim.” On Tuesday, Ms. Simonds embraced the same name. “You can call me Landslide Shelly as long as you call me delegate,” she said.

In Arizona’s gubernatorial election in 2014, total statewide voter turnout was only 47.52 percent — less than half of the registered voters who took the time to register to vote — the lowest voter turnout since 1942 (during WWII) with the exception of an abberration year in 1998 with a voter turnout of only 45.82 percent, in the election of Governor Jane Dee Hull.

For all those people who like to bitch and moan about our Koch-bot Governor Doug Ducey and our lawless Tea-Publican legislature but who do not vote, YOU are the problem and YOU can be the solution, if only you would exercise your franchise to vote. Every vote does count.

Democracies die from indifference and neglect. Register to vote — you can do it online at ServiceAriona — and then exercise your franchise to vote. No more excuses!

UPDATE: One day after a recount said a Democrat won a state House race by a single vote — which would have ended 17 years of GOP dominance in the chamber — a panel of judges ruled that a questionable ballot should be counted in favor of the Republican, tying the race. Virginia court tosses one-vote victory that briefly ended GOP majority in House:

Control of Virginia’s legislature hung in limbo Wednesday after a three-judge panel declined to certify the recount of a key House race, saying that a questionable ballot should be counted in favor of the Republican and tying a race that Democrats thought they had won by a single vote.

“The court declares there is no winner in this election,” Newport News Circuit Court Judge Bryant L. Sugg said after the panel deliberated for more than two hours.

He said that the ballot in question contained a mark for Democrat Shelly Simonds as well as a mark for Republican Del. David Yancey but that the voter had made another mark to strike out Sim­onds’s name.

That is not accurate.

Typically an “overvote,” voting for two candidates in a ‘choose one” race, is not counted because the “intent of the voter” cannot be determined from the ballot. In this case, the court is inferring that an additional mark through the ballot bubble means the voter struck that candidate.

As you can see on the ballot, the voter also made an additional mark through the ballot bubble for Ed Gillespie, the only candidate marked for governor. So does that mean the voter intended not to cast any vote for governor? Or rather to signify their strong support for that candidate, in which case the court’s inference is wrong. Was the vote for governor counted or struck? The only fair thing to do is to not count this overvote ballot because the intent of the voter cannot be determined.


Officials presiding over the five-hour recount on Tuesday had discarded that ballot en route to a historic reversal of the original election outcome. Yancey had emerged from Election Day with a 10-vote lead in the 94th District, but the recount uncovered enough additional ballots for Simonds to give her a one-vote victory.

That seemed to set up the House for a rare 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats, ending 17 years of GOP dominance and making headlines nationwide.

But Republicans challenged that decision in court Wednesday, saying the voter had selected every other Republican on the ballot and intended to vote for Yancey.

The judges — all of whom were elected by a Republican-
controlled legislature — agreed, leaving the race tied at 11,608 votes each for Yancey and Simonds. The balance of power in the House stands at 50-49 in favor of Republicans until the Newport News race can be resolved.

State law says the winner of a tied House race will be determined by lot — leaving the fate of the chamber to what is essentially a coin toss.

James Alcorn, chairman of the State Board of Elections, said the winner will probably be chosen by placing names on slips of paper into two film canisters and then drawing the canisters from a glass bowl (or his bowler hat). He said he is conferring with staff to figure out the date and method.

But it doesn’t end there. If the loser of the coin toss is unhappy with that result, he or she can seek a second recount.

So let’s say that karma prevails and the Democrat wins the coin toss. You can bet that the Republican will ask for another recount.


17 thoughts on “The power of a single vote in Virginia (Updated)”

    • their are many reasons people don’t vote. how about the people who try to register and are not allowed too or vote and don’t have their votes counted you conveniently didn’t mention that. remember in 2012 the local news channel showing voters standing in line to vote and told its 7 pm the polls are closed go away are you will be arrested! this happened at other polling places in south phoenix that were not on tv. do you remember a former supreme court justice renquist who challenged black voters in south phoenix? or informing voters that child support, traffic tickets and out standing warrants would be checked if they tried to vote. chris coburns cross check stopped using middle initials because they weren’t able to remove enough minorities from the registration list. remember florduh 2000 when black military officers police officers and clergy among others were told they were convicted felons and wouldn’t be allowed to vote from an earlier form of cross check. funny you didn’t mention any of these reasons. I am sure others here can add more reasons.

  1. The reason that voter turnout is so low, percentage-wise, is because people who are not interested in politics or voting get enrolled via streetside tables and DMV easy signup. Thus proving the adage that you can lead a horse to water but cannot make him (her) drink.

    • if people are so not interested in voting why do republicans make it so hard to register and vote. why make people stand 5 hours in line to cast a vote in a presidential primary election. why are you complaining that the voters voted to stop your self interested gerrymandering so their votes are not impactful. why make initiative gathers be paid by the hour ;but slimy politicians like you still get to pay per signature so slime like you can make the ballot?

      • Progressives love America so much they want everyone to vote.

        The GOP knows the country leans slightly left and hates democracy.

        Progressives love the US Constitution so much they want it to apply to everyone, everywhere, at least in how we treat others.

        The GOP wants the world to bow down before us. See Trump and the UN vote today.

        Progressives read the Book of Matthew, even people like me who are not followers, and think, wow, this guy Jesus makes sense, we should care for the least of us.

        The GOP thinks “oh, you got cancer, sucks to be you”.

        I could go on, but most people already know these things.

        • Not sure who you’re addressing or what point you are asking to be contested?

          Are you criticizing efforts to register voters, because most people would think that’s a good thing.

          By most people I mean patriotic Americans who believe in the Constitution and our representative form of government.

          I really, really hope you’re not criticizing encouraging Americans to vote, because that’s a pretty creepy thing to do, even for you.

      • If you want someone to take you seriously and engage in conversation, it is a good idea not to call them slime. Didn’t your parents teach you civility and common sense?

        • You keep demanding respect, but you’re the guy who supports racist laws that rips mothers from their children. You destroy families.

          You lack self-awareness.

    • Senator, what is your source for your assertion here? There are a myriad reasons why people are unable to vote having nothing to do with laziness or disinterest!

      • That pushing registration forms in front of people who are not interested in voting is one reason (clearly not the only one) for the historically high low voter turnouts as a percentage of registered voters we are seeing.

        It is a simple point and one that is obviously true and rather than drawing an acknowledgement, it, as usual, is the catalyst for disagreement and attack here at congenial BfA.

        Happy Holidays!

  2. And now that Virginia race is a tie:

    Virginia politics keeps providing us with one gripping plot twist after another—the unexpected Democratic wins, the district where some voters got the wrong ballots, the recount that led to a one-vote Democratic victory. But the latest plot twist is not much fun: the Republican challenge to a single ballot in that recount has succeeded and the result is now a tie.

      • Would not be surprising. Just like that Waukesha clerk who just happened to “find” a bag of uncounted ballots that threw a Supreme Court election to David Prosser, an ideological hack who was credibly accused of choking one of his female justice colleagues. Same thing happened earlier with the previous Waukesha clerk which threw the governor’s office back to Scott Walker.

  3. azbm I think you are being a little unfair to people. remember the establishment would like you to vote for them and if not then they would like you too not vote at all. as you know they make it as hard to register and to vote. remember the 2016 presidential primary vote vote here. I have suggest on this blog initiatives to make it easier to register and vote. as have others. the az democratic party does as little as they can get away with as they fear latinos taking over the party and kick them out! in 2009 the democrats in congress could have made it easier to vote ;but their special interest lobbyist and donors had their pet project so dreamers and voters got the bum’s rush. what are YOU doing to make it easier to register and vote and that goes for others here too! remember voting trumps all else as with out the votes nothing else can get done as the courts are not going to be our friends much longer.

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