In Virginia, a 11,608-to-11,607 lesson in the power of a single vote

  • Trip Gabriel
  • The New York Times
7:00 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 Politics
Joe Fudge/AP
Democrat Shelly Simonds reacts to the news that she won the 94th District precincts by one vote after previously trailing incumbent David Yancey by ten votes post-election, following a recount Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in Hampton, Va.

Virginia Republicans appear to have lost control of the House of Delegates in an election decided by a single vote in a nail-biting recount. 

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. 

Simonds’ 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 Donald 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 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.” 

The recount was a nail-biting exercise avidly followed on Twitter over five hours that began with the Republican incumbent, David Yancy, ahead by 10 votes. 

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 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. 

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, Simonds embraced the same name. “You can call me Landslide Shelly as long as you call me delegate,” she said.