It came down to the toss of a coin.
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Explore This IssueSeptember 2020
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David Yancey represented the Newport News district in the Virginia House of Delegates beginning in 2011. In 2017, he had a challenger. Shelly Simonds, a member of the local school board, decided to run for the privilege of representing the 94th District. The final tally: 11,608 votes for Simonds, and 11,607 votes for Yancey.1
Ms. Simonds had won. By one vote.
The outcome was not assured by any means. The original vote count was so close, it triggered a recount, which led to the conclusion that Ms. Simonds had won by one vote. According to the original vote count, it was actually Mr. Yancey who had won. By 10 votes.
That’s not where the story ends.
One vote had initially been discarded. The voter had filled in bubbles for both Mr. Yancey and Ms. Simonds, but then put a slash through the bubble for Ms. Simonds. The ballot was brought to a three-judge panel, which determined that the ballot demonstrated clear evidence of intent. By examining how the remainder of the ballot had been completed, the judges had decided that the voter had clearly demonstrated his (or her) desire to vote for Mr. Yancey. Therefore, the vote, which Ms. Simonds had initially lost by 10 votes, and then won by one vote, was actually a tie.2
Hence, the coin toss.
It wasn’t actually a physical coin, per se, that decided the outcome of this election. It was a slip of paper, stuffed into a film canister, drawn randomly out of a bowl. Under Virginia law, the Commonwealth Board of Elections had to break the tie vote through “determination by lot.”3 The vote had to be decided, literally, by drawing a small object or a piece of paper out of a container.
Thus, the representative for the 94th district of the Commonwealth of Virginia was determined.
Kevin Entze could commiserate. Mr. Entze was a police officer in Washington state who ran to be his party’s candidate for the 2002 state house race for the 26th district. More than 11,700 ballots were cast. Mr. Entze lost. By one vote. Worse, he later found out that a colleague had forgotten to mail in his ballot. “He left his ballot on the kitchen counter, and it never got sent out,” Mr. Entze said.4
Close elections are more common than you would think. There’s actually a Wikipedia page, List of Close Election Results, that documents multiple state and local elections decided by only a handful of votes.5 It would also be difficult to forget that George W. Bush was elected president of the United States by a margin of only 537 votes, cast in the state of Florida.6 All of these examples demonstrate the truth to the mantra: Every vote counts.