The old saying "every vote counts" may never have been more true than in Virginia Tuesday. A recount in a Newport News district appears to have flipped the outcome and moved the House of Delegates to a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats, ending 17 years of GOP control.
Republican Delegate David Yancey started the day with a ten vote lead. As each precinct was recounted, that lead dwindled away. The final result: A single-vote victory for Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds. That's one vote out of more than 23,000 cast on Election Day last month.
A recount court still has to certify the results Wednesday. If the tally stands, the House of Delegates will be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. That would require a power-sharing agreement between the parties, a situation not seen in Virginia since the 1990s.
Going into Election Day, Republicans had controlled 66 of the chamber's 100 seats and suffered major losses in suburban districts around the state. Republican will continue to control the state senate with a narrow 21-19 majority. Democrats maintained control of the governor's mansion with the election of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.
In a statement, House Democratic leaders David Toscano and Charniele Herring congratulated Simonds and hinted at the General Assembly session that begins next month. "We are one vote closer to expanding Medicaid and extending access to affordable health care to nearly 400,000 people," they wrote. "Let's get this done."
Republican leaders in the House conceded the seat to Simonds, pending confirmation by the court. In a written statement, Kirk Cox, Todd Gilbert, Tim Hugo and Nick Rush wrote they are "ready to establish a bipartisan framework under which the House can operate efficiently and effectively over the next two years."
There are two more recounts in other House races this week, though the margins in those races were not nearly as small.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Around election time you often hear that every vote counts, but it's rare that turns out to be literally true. However, Republicans have lost control of Virginia's statehouse after a recount in a race where the winning Democrat got 11,608 votes and her opponent got 11,607 votes. Now the Virginia House of Delegates is split 50-50. Mallory Noe-Payne from member station WVTF has more.
MALLORY NOE-PAYNE, BYLINE: Going into the recount, Democrat Shelly Simonds was short 10 votes. But after hours of meticulous work by election officials, Simonds pulled past her opponent, Republican David Yancey, by just one vote.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SHELLY SIMONDS: I think landslide Shelly sounds great. (Laughter). You can call me anything. Just call me delegate. (Laughter).
NOE-PAYNE: Speaking with reporters at the end of the day, Simonds says she was in awe of the process and what can happen when Democrats show up at the polls.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SIMONDS: And I think this victory really showed that when the nation pays attention to states, we're going to make a lot of progress.
NOE-PAYNE: The loss is just one in a series of electoral blows for Republicans. In November, Virginia Democrats turned out in huge numbers, electing a new governor and decimating the GOP supermajority in the state legislature.
QUENTIN KIDD: This just gives you a sense of how big the wave was in this last election.
NOE-PAYNE: Quentin Kidd is a political science professor at Christopher Newport University. He says Virginia hasn't had a split legislature since 1997.
KIDD: This is really going to be a test for both parties' ability to work the way voters want parties and politicians to work, and that is across lines and compromising.
NOE-PAYNE: There are still two recounts pending. Democrats are hoping they may even gain the majority, making it possible for them to easily raise the minimum wage or expand Medicaid. But Charniele Herring, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, sees a chance for bipartisanship.
CHARNIELE HERRING: I'm optimistic that we can actually be a model for the nation.
NOE-PAYNE: In a statement, Republican leaders say they're ready to govern alongside their colleagues. Votes in the race are expected to be certified later today. For NPR News, I'm Mallory Noe-Payne in Richmond, Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.