Home 2017 Races People Talking About How “Bonkers” the Virginia Random Drawing Was Are Completely...

People Talking About How “Bonkers” the Virginia Random Drawing Was Are Completely Focused on the Wrong Thing


This morning, I got an email from a politically savvy friend from out of state, commenting on how yesterday’s random drawing from a bowl to determine the HD-94 winner was “bonkers.” I’m also seeing a ton of comments on social media about how supposedly “[o]ur elections should not be decided by random chance” or – my favorite – about the supposed “absurdity of world’s oldest elected leg being decided by lotto” (that one from Tom Perriello, by the way). For starters, Virginia does NOT have the “world’s oldest elected leg[islature]” – for instance the Vikings had an elected legislature as early as 930 AD.

But let’s put that one aside for the moment and focus on the “bonkers,” “absurd” random drawing issue. In fact, the Washington Post looked at this in 2014 and found that there are “35 states that [determine] tied elections by a coin toss or some other means of chance, according to state constitutions, statues, and election legislation reviewed by The Washington Post.”  What about the other 15 states, you ask?

States that don’t cast lots typically call for another election to be held, while others allow government officials to do the picking. In Indiana and Montana, for example, if the candidates for governor are tied, the state legislature decides the election.

Think about that one — would you rather have: 1) a random drawing from a bowl; 2) a GOP-dominated legislature picking winners/losers; 3) having another election when the governor’s race is not on the ballot, when turnout is much lower and Republicans are (therefor) more likely to win?  Personally, I’ll go with #1, followed by #3, followed by #2.

Anyway, the bottom line is that as silly as the drawing of film canisters from a glass or ceramic bowl or whatever might seem, it’s basically standard operating procedure throughout the United States to decide tied elections this way, and furthermore it’s hard to think of a better, fairer way to do it.

More to the point, what we SHOULD be focusing on isn’t how the tie was broken – pulling from a hat or bowl, coin toss, etc. – but on how we go to this tie in the first place. As Del. Marcus Simon tweeted this morning, “The issue isn’t with the form of tie breaker. The issue is Shelly received 1 more vote than her opponent before the court decided to open a sealed box of ballots & fish around for one a GOP official decided merited a re-re count – then counted it in clear violation of law.” Bingo.

  • Harry

    Anyone take a look at the 3 judges? The initial judge term is 10 years as I recall and then they are up for re-election by the GA. Were they Rs before election?

    • Rich Johnson

      Sugg is/was a D for many years. He is nice guy, and a pretty good judge. However, Yancey was his sponsor. Like most judges in Virginia, Cella and David Johnson are conservatives and were appointed and sponsored by R’s in the legislature.

      • Harry

        It appears the decision was partisan by st least 2 r judges and another who was probably a Yancey hand puppet

        • I believe Judge Sugg is fine; the other two worry me…

    • Judge Sugg’s only political donation in VPAP was to a Democrat.

  • Shelly Simonds pledges to “persist” – “please know I will run again to represent you in the 94th district at the next opportunity”

    So much has happened I hardly know where to begin. Thank you to all my friends from near and far who’ve experienced this real life comedy of errors with me. History will be the judge in the long run of this recount. People will remember how we fought and what we said. They will see the ballot and how the court order was violated and how a recount, conducted by the people, was undone. I will keep you posted on our next steps but please know I will run again to represent you in the 94th district at the next opportunity. We will persist because we’ve got thousands of people behind us demanding change.

    • Kenneth Ferland

      I see no reason not to keep persisting right now. Make your own ballot challenges along the same lines that the republicans have at the very least!

  • Another Scott

    What are your thoughts about NLS’s tweet yesterday? (Sorry for the mangled HTML…)

    Two weeks ago this was a deal all would have agreed to. The story post November 7th is how the Democrats missed every single opportunity they had at various points to make deals that would stick. @deltoscano squandered a lot of Dem power, and potentially Gov. Northam's success.— (((Ben Tribbett))) (@notlarrysabato) January 3, 2018

    Was the result really an own-goal on TeamD’s part? Is NotLarry trolling?

    Virginia politics seems very counter-intuitive to me sometimes…



    • I think Dems fought for what they believed (correctly) was the right thing to do and generally did a good job of it given all the things not under their control. I’m not sure how anyone could have known that the initial recount would end up with Simonds ahead by 1 vote, that the three-judge panel would not only agree to look at a ballot that had already been thrown out but then actually COUNT THE DAMN BALLOT, etc. So…that’s my view of this.

  • suspicious_package

    All of this can be true. It can be true that counting the last ballot violated the law (I’m not convinced, and if they were going to cheat anyway, why not find two?). It can also be true that we need to do more to reduce the number of spoilt ballots or allow a more nuanced way of divining voter intent (http://www.thewashcycle.com/2017/11/ot-when-counting-votes-in-virginia-intent-should-matter.html). And it can be true that letting film canisters vote is bonkers. Especially when there is a better way (https://ggwash.org/view/65997/is-there-a-better-way-to-settle-virginia-election-tie-than-a-coin-toss).

    • It’s not “letting film canisters vote”; again, breaking an electoral tie by some sort of random procedure is done in 35 states, with others having the legislature deciding the winner, etc. Personally, I’d just flip a coin, but whatever…really a trivial issue HOW the random selection is done.

      • suspicious_package

        The canister cast the deciding vote. It may not be “voting” but it is effectively the same.

        Just because a lot of places do it doesn’t make it a good idea. It just means legislators are lazy and uncreative. The last time this happened at the state legislature level, the Democrat who won the drawing promised to try and end the practice. Unfortunately, the GOP controlled-legislature used their power to seat the Republican (that case is still in the courts) so he hasn’t gotten the chance (ha!) to do that. There are several better options.

        1. Use late arriving absentee ballots
        2. Use the drawing to select the person to fill the seat for 2018. Then in 2019 the other person takes over. (this is basically what voters voted for)
        3. Have a run-off election. If you’re really worried that it will favor Republicans, then only allow those who didn’t vote in November to vote.

        This is an opportunity to make deciding ties better. Let’s take it.

        Some people thought that Alcorn was able to follow the Yancey canister three-card monty style, so even the method of randomly selecting it does matter.

  • C Pruett

    Pretty sure Tom meant “new world” but otherwise, yeah, the randomness of tie breaking is not the problem. I’m still not sure if I think there was wrongdoing or their lawyers just outhustled ours, but the part of the law that seems LEAST like a mess is the random drawing part.

    • Right, the random drawing part was perfectly fine IMHO. I’d certainly rather have that than the GOP-controlled House of Delegates picking the (Republican, of course) winner.

  • RobertColgan

    I like the idea of seating both delegates from the same district when there is a tie.
    (Even though Simonds won in that recount and SHOULD have been the sole delegate….)
    This way, each of their voting blocs has representation. Sure, they will numerous times cancel each other’s votes, but they also may be in agreement at times….hell, they might even work collaboratively on behalf of their constituents. Stranger things have happened.

    • Would that be constitutional?

      • RobertColgan

        Yes.No. In my morning constitutional, I found the idea liberating.
        But it is FAIR from every angle.