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Court Challenge Delays Drawing To Decide Virginia House Race

Dec 26, 2017
Originally published on December 26, 2017 8:19 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Control of Virginia's House of Delegates is teetering on a knife edge. One delegate race is undecided in Virginia's 94th District. If the Republican wins, the GOP will control the Virginia House. If the Democrat wins, the parties will share control. With so much at stake, each contestant is doing everything they can to ensure that they come out on top. And even now, there are last-minute reversals and plot twists. To discuss the latest, we're joined again by Rachel Bitecofer, who teaches political science at Christopher Newport University, which is in Virginia's 94th District. Welcome back to the program.

RACHEL BITECOFER: Well, thank you so much for having me back. And I would say it was Colonel Mustard in the library at this point.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) When we woke up this morning, this one race that could determine control of the Virginia House of Delegates was exactly tied at 11,608 votes each. There was scheduled to be a name drawn from basically a hat tomorrow. And then what happened?

BITECOFER: Yeah. So what happened is the Simonds team has filed a motion to the court.

SHAPIRO: This is the Democratic candidate.

BITECOFER: This is the Democrat who initially was declared the winner by a one-vote margin until court proceedings allowed the inclusion of a late ballot that was counted for her opponent, the Republican incumbent, David Yancey, and then brought this race to a tie to be decided actually from a drawing from a bowl - but pretty close to a hat, so...

SHAPIRO: This comes down to literally one ballot out of 22,000 cast in this congressional district that could determine control of the state House. You've actually seen the ballot. What does it look like?

BITECOFER: Yeah. So the ballot has a little bit of confusion throughout. It has a marking for the gubernatorial Republican candidate Ed Gillespie that is both circled in the bubble and then also crossed out. And then when it gets to the 94th District, it has markings circled in for both David Yancey and Shelly Simonds. but Shelly Simonds' bubble has a weird line that doesn't quite go through the middle of it but kind of touches that northwestern corner.

And so, you know, what this motion is arguing to the court is their decision to add that ballot late after the recount had already been officially completed and then to rule that ballot in favor of David Yancey was an erroneous ruling. And so they are asking the court to reconsider their own judgment.

SHAPIRO: Who's going to make the decision on this?

BITECOFER: So, again, it's not an appeal. There's no appellate process for these three-judge panel. So actually what they're arguing is - to these judges - hey, you made this decision; here are some legal arguments that we're going to make arguing why the decision is wrong, and would you reconsider the state law, allow them a 21-day window to ask the judges to reconsider? Now, the court has been closed today, so we really won't know what's going on in terms of the judges' opinions on this until tomorrow some time at the earliest.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, you have followed Virginia politics closely. How extraordinary is this?

BITECOFER: Oh, it's extremely extraordinary. Now, it certainly is true that there have been other contests that have come down to one-vote margins or ties that have ended in losses provided for under the state election law but never one to decide the control of the Chamber. And I think that's what really has caught the national attention and has made the candidates really pull out every stop, trying to come out on top, as you said in the intro.

SHAPIRO: That's Rachel Bitecofer of Christopher Newport University, a political scientist there in Virginia's 94th District. Thank you so much.

BITECOFER: Well, thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.