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In race critical to Virginia House control, GOP urges judges to stick by ballot ruling

In this Dec. 20, 2017, photo, Del. David Yancey talks with reporters outside the Newport News, Va., Courthouse. (Jonathon Gruenke / Associated Press)
In this Dec. 20, 2017, photo, Del. David Yancey talks with reporters outside the Newport News, Va., Courthouse. (Jonathon Gruenke / Associated Press)
By Laura Vozzella Washington Post

RICHMOND, Va. – Republicans on Friday asked a Virginia three-judge panel to stick by its decision to count a disputed ballot in a squeaker legislative race for the GOP, a ruling that threw the race – and control of the House of Delegates – into a state of limbo.

House Republicans were responding to a motion Democrats had filed earlier in the week, asking the recount court to reverse itself and declare Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds the winner over David Yancey of Newport News by a margin of one vote.

A win by Simonds would split the House evenly, forcing the parties into a rare power-sharing arrangement in a chamber that Republicans have controlled for 17 years. The GOP enjoyed a 66-to-34 majority heading into the Nov. 7 elections. But Democrats picked up at least 15 seats, part of a broad backlash against President Donald Trump.

On Election Day, Yancey appeared to beat Simonds by 10 votes in the 94th legislative district. Then a Dec. 19 recount left Simonds ahead by a single vote.

The next day, the three judges decided that a ballot declared ineligible during the recount should count for Yancey, tying the race at 11,608 apiece. The ballot in question contained marks for Simonds and for Yancey, as well as an extra mark by Simonds’s name that the court ruled was an effort to strike out the mark in her favor.

On Wednesday, Simonds filed a motion asking the recount court to reconsider. That prompted the state Board of Elections to call off plans to break the tie Wednesday by drawing a name out of a 19th-century pitcher.

In the response filed Friday, Yancey’s attorney, Trevor Stanley, argued that Democrats had already been given the one and only chance state law affords them to argue before the recount court.

“The standard for reconsideration is that the Petitioner is entitled to one, but only one, full and fair opportunity to argue a question of law,” he wrote. He also argued that the court – assembled with judges from different jurisdictions solely for the purpose of overseeing the recount – had already been dissolved.

Democrats did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If the outcome of the Yancey-Simonds race is not determined by Jan. 10, Republicans would control the chamber 50 to 49. If Yancey wins, the Republicans will retain their majority by the slimmest possible margin.

In a conference call with reporters, Del. Kirk Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, hinted that the Jan. 13 inauguration of Democratic Gov.-elect Ralph Northam could not go forward if the House is unable to organize on the first day of the legislative session three days earlier.

“If you don’t organize the first day, it makes it difficult,” said Cox, who would be speaker of the House if the GOP retains control.

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