GOP holds 51-49 edge over Dems in House after election certification

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/8/2017, 5:12 a.m.
Democrat Joshua Cole fell just 82 votes short of becoming the first African-American delegate to represent Stafford County and end ...

Democrat Joshua Cole fell just 82 votes short of becoming the first African-American delegate to represent Stafford County and end outright Republican control of the House of Delegates, according to the state Board of Elections.

The board on Monday certified Mr. Cole’s Republican opponent, Robert “Bob” Thomas Jr., a businessman and member of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, as the winner in the hard-fought contest to replace retiring House Speaker William J. Howell in the 28th House District.

The Thomas win allows Republicans to cling to a 51-seat majority in the General Assembly’s 100-member lower chamber. The slim majority may enable the GOP to continue to block expansion of health care, push anti-abortion and anti-immigration measures and nix other measures on which the political parties are divided.

The election board’s action, though, is not expected to end legal and political fights swirling around the 28th District and at least two other House districts in which the election was decided by razor-thin margins.

A Democratic win in any of the three through a recount or other means would result in a 50-50 split and require Republicans to allow a power-sharing arrangement in the House of Delegates.

Democrats, who held only 34 seats before the election, picked up at least 15 seats in the Nov. 7 election, giving them 49 seats in the House of Delegates. They are continuing to battle for control of the three contested seats, which, if won, would be a boon to the incoming Democratic governor, Dr. Ralph S. Northam.

In the wake of the board’s action, Marc Elias, a lawyer for House Democrats, stated that he and his clients are still mulling whether to press a legal challenge to the results in the 28th House District based on the state board’s finding that at least 147 voters were given the wrong ballots in precincts split between the 28th, 2nd and 88th House districts.

Another 55 absentee ballots, which arrived late, also were not counted; a Democratic lawsuit to force them to be counted failed.

Ahead of the board’s certification, Mr. Elias filed a federal suit on behalf of several voters who were given the wrong ballots in a bid to stop the state board from acting, but a judge declined to intervene then.

However, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis told the plaintiffs that they might have cause to ask him to call for a new election once the state board officially decided the winner. So far, no motions urging him to order a new election have been submitted.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cole is expected to request a recount that would be paid for by the state because of the close result. However, in Virginia, recounts rarely, if ever, change the official results.

Recounts now are being sought in the other two hotly contested races. In Northern Virginia, another African-American, Donte Tanner, is expected to ask for a recount in the 40th House District, where the Democratic nominee fell just 106 votes short in his bid to oust incumbent Republican Delegate Timothy D. Hugo of Fairfax.

The other recount is expected in an even tighter race in Newport News. Democrat Shelly Simonds officially lost by just 10 votes in her bid to oust Republican incumbent Delegate David E. Yancey in the 94th House District. The Free Press misidentified the district in a story on the battle for control of the House of Delegates published in the Nov. 16-18 edition.