2 Film Canisters in a Bowl Could Settle Va.'s Tied Election - NECN
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2 Film Canisters in a Bowl Could Settle Va.'s Tied Election

At stake in the race could be control of the state House, which would split 50-50 if the Democrat wins the election

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Contested Races Could Shift Balance of Power in Va. House

    Tom Sherwood explains what the contested Virginia House of Delegates races mean for the commonwealth. (Published Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017)

    Control of the country's oldest legislative body could come down to which old film canister an election official pulls out of a glass bowl — or maybe an old fashioned tri-corner hat or a silver cup. 

    A three-judge panel in Virginia certified the 94th District in Newport News as tied Wednesday, one day after a dramatic recount appeared to give Democrat Shelly Simonds a victory over Republican Del. David Yancey by a single vote. Democrats decried the decision and indicated they may file a legal challenge. 

    At stake could be control of the Virginia House. 

    Here are some key questions and answers on the election: 

    HOW IS A WINNER PICKED IN A TIE VOTE?
    Virginia law says in a tied race, the state elections board publicly determines the winner "by lot." The law doesn't specify the actual method or when that takes place. 

    Virginia Board of Elections Chairman James Alcorn said barring some kind of legal challenge, the board will likely try to meet as soon as possible. He said the board would probably pick the winner the same way it picks ballot order. He said each candidate's name is placed into a separate film canister. The canisters are placed into a glass bowl and shaken up. The canister containing the winner's name is pulled out at random by a board member. 

    If the board feels festive, it may use an old-fashioned tri-corner hat to put names in, which Alcorn said he thinks has been used to settle local election ties in the past.  

    HAS THIS HAPPENED BEFORE?
    In Virginia, where the state House has been around since the 1619 founding of the House of Burgesses at Jamestown, something similar has happened at least once. In 1971, Republican candidate William H. Moss Sr. appeared to have lost the election for a Fairfax seat. He demanded a recount, which ended in a tie, and then won when his name was drawn at random, according to news reports from the time. 

    "The bowl used, in somewhat typical Virginian style, is a silver loving cup," reported The Washington Post. 

    Outside Virginia, various methods of settling ties have been used. 

    Two years ago in Mississippi, two House candidates broke a tie by reaching into a red canvas bag and pulling out a silver-plated business card boxes engraved with the state's name. The winner drew the box with a longer straw in it. 

    In Alaska in 2006, a coin flip broke the tie in a Democratic primary for a state House seat. The incumbent called "heads" and lost. 

    WHAT ARE THE STAKES?
    At stake in the race could be control of the state House. 

    If Yancey wins, Republicans would have a 51-49 majority as long as no other seats switched. Democrats could force a 50-50 power-sharing agreement if Simonds wins. 

    However, two other state House races have not been finalized and could also affect the House's partisan balance. One of those contests could be decided by a federal judge. 

    Powered by unhappiness with GOP President Donald Trump, Virginia Democrats rode a tidal wave in November, erasing Republicans' 66-34 advantage. Democrats nationwide hope it's a preview of the 2018 elections. 

    But the possible 50-50 split could also foreshadow political chaos in the Old Dominion, as Republicans and Democrats will have to hammer out some kind of power-sharing agreement in order for the House to function. If they can't, the House won't operate. Electing a speaker is one of the first things delegates do once they are sworn in, right after a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. If no one is elected to the role, there's not much else the body can do except adjourn.