Virginia officials settled a contentious race in the House of Delegates’ 94th District in Newport News when Republican David Yancey’s name was drawn from a bowl in January, declaring him the winner over Democrat Shelly Simonds. New investigations have muddied that outcome even more.
The Washington Post found in a new analysis of voter districts and registration records that due to voter assignment errors regarding split precincts, 26 people voted in the 93rd District instead of the 94th. Simond said split precincts – where voters at the same polling place are split among two different districts — are confusing for election officials and citizens alike. Newport News has seven split precincts. Virginia has 224.
Split precincts tend to be in areas with younger voters in apartment complexes, military families and areas with people of color,” Simonds said. “That screams discrimination. The people drawing these maps are trying intentionally to disenfranchise voters in Newport News.
Simonds visited Newport News’ voter registration office Thursday and said she left feeling even more frustrated about the process. She does not blame election officials — she thinks the process of assigning voters to split precincts is a tedious one, which registrars in her city have to do manually.
“Local governments are getting outgunned by partisan politicians to have access to better software,” she said. “Putting the focus on the split precincts and non-partisan redistricting is the right thing to talk about right now. It’s constructive and bipartisan, something that we can all agree on.”
Virginia House Democrats flipped a historic 15 seats in November, and Democrats hoped they could regain power of the chamber for the first time since 1998. That power hinged on the outcome of the Newport News race — it went to the Republicans after two recounts and the tie-breaking name drawing.
Another close race in last fall’s House of Delegates elections, in the 28th district of Fredericksburg, also raised questions about voters receiving incorrect ballots. But a judge would not call for a special election because he said there was not enough evidence that it impacted the election. Republican Del. Bob Thomas won that seat.
House Bill 1581, introduced in this year’s General Assembly session by Marcia Price (D-Newport News), would have required a special election in cases of a tie after a recount — except in elections for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or Attorney General, where the Constitution of Virginia has a separate process. The bill was left without action in the Privileges and Elections subcommittee, preventing it from advancing to a full vote in the House of Delegates.
If Simonds had won, the House would have been split down the middle, requiring Democrats and Republicans to share power on everything from who becomes Speaker to committee members and chairs.
Instead, the single-seat majority House Republicans held in this year’s General Assembly session contributed to a lack of action on Democrats’ core issues, like gun control and LGBTQ anti-discrimination. Many of those bills died on party-line votes.
The House and Senate’s deadlock on Medicaid forced a special session to decide the 2018-20 budget, which began April 11 and remains ongoing.