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Candidate in tied Virginia election race asks court to declare her winner

A Democrat politician has asked a court to declare her the winner of a race for Virginia's House of Delegates that is officially tied.

Shelly Simonds has asked a three-judge panel to reconsider its decision to strip her of a one-vote victory she won after a dramatic recount of last month's election in Newport News.

Her lawyers argue that the judges committed clear legal errors, including the counting of a ballot for her Republican opponent, incumbent David Yancey, after the recount ended.

So far, the court has scheduled no hearings on the matter. But the petition was enough for state elections officials to delay a plan to draw names from a bowl on Wednesday to declare a winner.

State law prescribes the "drawing of lots" to resolve a race that has been certified a tie by a recount court. In a statement on Tuesday, however, the elections board said such a drawing should only be used as a last resort.

Even if the court upholds the tie vote and names are drawn from a bowl, legal experts say the loser can still petition for a second recount.

Virginia's General Assembly convenes on January 10, with party control of the House of Delegates hanging in the balance.

The Republicans hold a 51-49 seat edge, which could change once this race is decided. If Ms Simonds wins the 94th District, Republicans and Democrats will be forced to share power. Or chaos could ensue.

Court clerk Gary Anderson said the judges received Ms Simonds' petition on Wednesday, but he could not say when a hearing might take place if the panel decides to consider it.

Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for the House Republican leadership, said party leaders are still reviewing Ms Simonds' filing to decide if they will file a response in court.

Ms Simonds appeared to have lost November's election by 10 votes to Mr Yancey. Then she seemed to have won a recount by a single vote last week. A day later, the recount court in Newport News declared a tie.

Her lawyers claim the court erred when it allowed Mr Yancey's campaign to challenge a ballot after the recount ended. The ballot was identified only after a Republican election official raised concerns the following day.

Ms Simonds' campaign argues it was not given the same chance to identify and challenge ballots post-recount. The lawyers also said the ballot counted for Mr Yancey had two extraneous markings, which should disqualify it from the vote.

Ms Simonds urged the court to seek advice from the Department of Elections and Virginia State Board of Elections in interpreting the ballot.

Board chairman James Alcorn said the only way for it to provide such guidance "would be for us to hold a public meeting".

He said: "If the court requests guidance from the entire State Board, we would comply with any court order."

Ms Simonds said a second recount would be "negative for our community".

She said the process would likely "descend into every ballot being contested to the courts, a nd instead of the citizens making the determination on questionable ballots, it would be the courts - it's better to have that process led by fellow citizens".


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