By Ian Simpson
(Reuters) – Republicans took narrow control of the Virginia House of Delegates on Wednesday after a Democrat conceded in a race decided by a tie-breaker and a federal appeals court refused to keep the winner of another disputed contest from being seated.
The concession by Shelly Simonds, who lost in a lottery-style drawing that drew national attention last week, and the judges’ ruling cemented Republicans’ 51-49 advantage hours before House lawmakers were sworn in and elected Republican Kirk Cox as speaker.
Simonds said she would not seek a second recount in her race with Republican incumbent David Yancey but would run again in 2019. Yancey won the tied Newport News-area race when election officials drew his name from a bowl.
“We’ve had an amazing civics lesson in the power of every vote, and I hope the legacy of this campaign will be record high turnout in Newport News forever more,” she said in a statement.
Simonds said the race underscored the need for election reforms in Virginia. She urged making it easier to cast an absentee ballot and ending gerrymandering, in which a party in power redraws legislative districts to ensure its candidates a better chance of winning.
The tie-breaking drawing was Virginia’s first since 1971 but unprecedented in the state because of its impact on the House, election officials said.
In another disputed Virginia House race, a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Wednesday rejected a bid by voters to keep Republican Robert Thomas from being seated because some ballots were cast in the wrong Fredericksburg-area district.
Calling the election “irreparably tainted,” Virginia Democratic Party spokeswoman Katie Baker said in a statement that the party would weigh its legal options. A federal judge last week rejected voters’ call for a new election, leading to the appeal.
Democrats picked up 15 House seats in November, part of the party’s first big wave of political victories since Republican President Donald Trump won the White House in 2016.
Democrat Ralph Northam is to be sworn in as governor on Saturday. Republicans also still control the state Senate.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)