Virginia officials postpone lottery drawing to decide tied statehouse election

Dec 26 (Reuters) - A lottery drawing to settle a tied Virginia legislative race that could shift the statehouse balance of power has been indefinitely postponed, state election officials said on Tuesday, after the Democratic candidate mounted a legal fight.

The decision to put off the high-stakes lotto, originally scheduled for Wednesday, marks the latest twist in a dramatic election recount that at one point showed Democrat Shelly Simonds beating Republican incumbent David Yancey by a single vote.

A victory by Simonds would shift Republicans' slim control of the 100-member House of Delegates to an even 50-50 split with the Democrats, forcing the two parties into a rare power-sharing arrangement.

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A day after Simonds emerged as the victor of a recount, a three-judge panel ruled that a disputed ballot should be counted for Yancey. That decision left the two candidates tied with 11,608 votes each in a district that encompasses the shipping hub of Newport News in southeastern Virginia, setting the stage for the equivalent of a coin toss to pick a final winner.

Simonds asked a state court to reconsider on Tuesday, arguing that the disputed ballot was wrongly included. An image filed in court showed that the ballot had bubbles filled in beside both names, with a slash mark by Simonds' name. The voter selected Republicans for other offices.

Simonds told reporters that the case had implications not only for her contest but for the integrity of state elections as a whole, saying that without a court ruling in her favor, "recounts would become a never-ending spiral of courtroom challenges."

The chairman of the Virginia Board of Elections, James Alcorn, said in a statement that while holding a lottery would be in keeping with state law, such a move should be considered "an action of last resort." He added: "Any substantive concerns regarding the election or recount should be resolved before a random drawing is conducted."

Yancey's campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Virginia House Republican Caucus said in a statement that it was reviewing the new court filings. "We believe the court acted appropriately and that the integrity of the process is without question," spokesman Parker Slaybaugh said.

Virginia Department of Elections spokeswoman Andrea Gaines said in an email that no new date for a drawing has been set.

Democrats notched historic gains in Virginia's statehouse elections last month, part of the party's first big wave of political victories since Republican Donald Trump won the White House last year.

Before the Nov. 7 general election, Virginia Republicans held 66 seats to the Democrats' 34 in the House of Delegates, along with a majority in the state Senate. (Reporting by Letitia Stein in Detroit; Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)

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