Legislation being patroned by Del. Mark Levine would change the way Virginia handles tie elections.
Levine (D-45th) has introduced a bill that would mandate a special election in local and General Assembly races if the top two vote-getters end up tied. Currently, Virginia law requires such ties to be broken by a random drawing.
Making the change would not simply be an academic exercise, Ties occasionally do occur – and the more low-turnout the race, the more likely one might transpire.
But they can even impact even General Assembly results. After a recount in 2017, Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds ended up in a 11,607-to-11,607 dead heat in a House of Delegates district in Newport News. (A Libertarian candidate picked up 675 votes in that race.)
Yancey won the race after his name – tucked inside a film canister – was drawn out of a bowl in early 2018. That gave Republicans a narrow but workable 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates.
(Simonds ended up defeating Yancey in a 2019 rematch, and will take her seat when the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 8.)
Other states address the matter of tie elections in various ways, from special elections to drawings to the flip of a coin.
While Virginia legislators will have to decide whether to stick with the status quo or follow Levine’s alternative, there is some support for sticking with a drawing, despite the randomness of the outcome.
“I honestly don’t think there’s a better way to do it,” said Jacob Neiheisel, an assistant professor of political science at the University at Buffalo, in comments to USA Today during the 2017 Yancey-Simonds battle. “It works. Both candidates have a 50-50 chance of winning, and there isn’t a way to cheat.”
Levine’s bill would exclude races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general from the special-election requirement. It also would limit recounts in any given close race to just one.