Here, It Counts: How One Vote Can Decide a Virginia Election
By Davis Burroughs
October 2, 2019

In Virginia — perhaps more than anywhere else — every vote does count. Just look to 2017, when one voter could have changed everything.

Then, one single vote did not just decide the winner of the House District 94 election; it also determined which party controlled the lower chamber in the General Assembly for the next two years. That one vote might have made gun reform possible; it could have made statewide paid family leave available to working parents, the minimum wage higher, or LGBTQ people’s rights equal to straight people’s rights.

But because of one vote in Newport News, none of those things happened. In HD-94, after a December recount, Democratic candidate Shelly Simonds was initially declared the winner by just one vote.

The result appeared to pluck control of the House of Delegates away from the GOP, which had gone into the election with a roughly two-thirds majority in the chamber.

But then, Republican incumbent David Yancey asked for a recount. The race was declared a tie after the ballot was re-examined, each candidate had 11,607 votes.

According to Virginia law, if candidates have an equal number of votes, then the state election board shall “determine by lot which of the candidates shall be declared elected.”

In January of 2018, the Virginia State Elections Board held a random drawing to determine the winner. Each candidates’ name was printed on a slip of paper and rolled into a film canister. The canisters were mixed in a handmade, blue and white stoneware bowl made by the potter-in-residence at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Steven Glass.

An official drew Yancey’s name. After Simonds ultimately decided to concede the race, Republicans celebrated their 18th consecutive year of control in the House.

In the the state legislature elections coming Nov. 5, the stakes are just as high and the results just as unpredictable. Ballotpedia has identified 27 battleground races in the Virginia House of Delegates elections: 11 Democratic seats and 16 Republican seats. In the state Senate elections, the digital encyclopedia of politics identified seven battleground races: one Democratic seat and six Republican seats.

Republicans hold two-seat majorities in both chambers. Both parties are fighting tooth and nail to see their competing visions for Virginia win.

If Republicans hold on to their majorities, it will be business as usual. But if Democrats win, here’s some things they could do if they held the “trifecta” of the Governor’s mansion and both chambers of the General Assembly:


  • Increase Virginia’sVirginia’s minimum wage, which is currently tied for the lowest in the nation (19 states across the country increased minimum wage requirements this year, but not Virginia)
  • Make the Earned Income Tax Credit fully refundable, which would give working families much-needed tax relief while stimulating the local economy


  • Establish and administer a paid family and medical leave program with benefits, including a measure requiring the state to provide 12 weeks paid leave to active duty military personnel, new parents, and Virginians either grappling with serious medical conditions or caring for family members with severe health problems
  • Ban anti-transgender discrimination in health services
  • Require health insurance companies to provide coverage for contraceptives and reproductive health services, and possibly ban co-pays for birth control
  • Repeal various politically-motivated restrictions to abortion access
  • End efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion, and protections for Virginians with pre-existing conditions


  • Make community college free for students entering high demand jobs
  • Restore public school funding to pre-recession era levels
  • Increase teacher pay (Virginia teachers earn some of the least competitive salaries in the country)
  • Cap or freeze state college tuition increases


  • Require people to pass an instant background check before purchasing a firearm
  • Allow close family members and law enforcement officers to petition a court to temporarily limit a person’s access to firearms if they have exhibited dangerous behavior
  • Prevent persons with permanent protective orders (i.e., domestic abusers) from purchasing firearms
  • Change the definition of an assault weapon from a gun that holds more than 20 rounds of ammunition to one that holds more than 10
  • Allow local authorities to prohibit firearms at events that require a permit (such laws “could prevent everyday disagreements from escalating into deadly assaults,” according to Giffords)
  • Limit the sale of handguns to one per month to prevent gun trafficking by preventing bulk purchases of firearms, a statute repealed by Republicans in 2012
  • Mandate that gun owners report lost or stolen firearms to authorities within 24 hours.
  • Make it a felony to leave a loaded, unsecured gun to a minor


  • Ban dangerous offshore gas drilling
  • Invest heavily in job training and worker transition programs for renewables
  • Materialize transition to 100% clean energy
  • Enact a coastal protection act to protect coastal communities from flooding
  • Return hundreds of millions of dollars back to ratepayers


  • Decriminalize or possibly legalize recreational marijuana, a position supported by over 60% of Virginians


  • Ban housing and employment discrimination against LGBTQ Virginians
  • Make Virginia the 38th and last state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, a measure first proposed by Congress in 1972 that outlaws discrimination based on gender

Check out The Dogwood’s Voter Guide to check your voter registration, polling place, and learn election information

Related Stories
Share This