A forthcoming random draw to break a tie vote in a disputed state House of Delegates election in Virginia might not have been necessary had the state done a better job safeguarding its voter rolls, according to voter fraud experts.
While no one has alleged fraud in the District 94 race between incumbent Republican David Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds, Newport News — where the district is located — has seen ballots by ineligible voters in the past.
Whoever wins in the end will determine whether Republicans maintain control of the Virginia legislature’s lower house, or Democrats gain a tie that will require the two parties to figure out some sort of power-sharing deal.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation has uncovered records of 221 noncitizens who registered to vote there from 2011 until May 2017. Of that group, 71 voters cast a total of 279 ballots during those years.
Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the voter-integrity organization that conducted the study, said it is highly likely that ineligible voters made the difference in the House race given the closeness of the results and the fact that Virginia has not changed how it conducts voter registration and elections.
“We have no reason to believe that there are not new noncitizen voters,” he told LifeZette. “Quite the contrary, they are finding them all the time … That’s just what happens in Virginia.”
Simonds was part of a Democratic wave in the November general election that carried Democrat Ralph Northam to a landslide victory in the gubernatorial election and swept out House incumbents across the state.
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On Election Day, Simonds finished 10 votes shy. A recount gave her an apparent victory by a margin of 11,608 to 11,607. But then a three judge-panel Wednesday examined a ballot that had been thrown out as an “overvote” because it appeared to mark both candidates in the House race. A Republican recount observer raised the issue after explaining that he had felt pressured by a Democratic official not to count the ballot.
Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for Delegate Kirk Cox, said the ballot clearly showed that the voter attempted to cross out the mark for Simonds. The voter also marked Republicans candidates in other races on the ballot.
Slaybaugh said the tie will be broken sometime next week in a procedure determined by elections officials. State law requires election ties to be settled by drawing lots. Whether that will involve drawing a name out of a bowl, flipping a coin, or some other method has yet to be determined.
“This is a little unprecedented,” said David D’Onofrio, a spokesman for the Virginia Republican Party. “We’re still trying to figure it out.”
Neither D’Onofrio nor Slaybaugh would speculate about whether noncitizen voting might have played a role, but the impact of the tiebreaker will be enormous. If Yancey wins, Republicans will retain control of the House, and Cox will become speaker. If Simonds prevails, the chamber will be deadlocked 50-50, and the political parties will have to work out an unprecedented power-sharing arrangement.
“It’s not just an election,” Churchwell said. “It’s the balance of power of the legislature.”
The noncitizen voters in Newport News between 2011 and 2017 are among 5,556 noncitizens that the Public Interest Legal Foundation discovered statewide. Some 1,852 of those voters had cast ballots; going back to the 1980s, the number of ballots cast by noncitizens totaled 7,474.
“Virginia proves today that the left-wing talking point that voter fraud is not worthy of being a primary concern is now bunk.”
All of the voters came to light because they subsequently contacted elections officials and asked to be removed. Churchwell said there is no telling how many noncitizens remain on the rolls and have not come forward. But he said common sense suggests that the number is high enough to swing an election decided by one vote or a random draw.
“Virginia proves today that the left-wing talking point that voter fraud is not worthy of being a primary concern is now bunk,” he said.
Even if future research uncovers that ineligible voters cast ballots in the election, it is impossible to determine which way they voted. But research by Old Dominion University political science professor Jesse Richman indicates that noncitizens across the country who have admitted to voting in U.S. elections have shown a clear preference for Democrats.
Robert Popper, director of Judicial Watch’s Election Integrity Project, said it is plausible that illegal votes could have made the difference.
“It’s a distinct possibility,” he said. “It would also be the kind of possibility that a perusal of the voter rolls would turn up.”
Popper said extraordinarily close races are more common than some people think. He pointed to a study by the Ohio secretary of state’s office indicating that in the Buckeye State, alone, 68 local elections or ballot initiatives in 2013 and 2014 were tied or decided by one vote.
“I don’t know that any one of those were as important as this one,” he said. “This is going to roil the politics of the state and affect a dozen issues or more.”
Popper pointed to testimony to President Donald Trump’s election integrity commission earlier this year by Ken Block, founder of Simpatico Software Systems, that 8,500 people cast ballots in more than one state during the 2016 election. Because Block had access to only 21 states, he estimated that the national total of duplicate votes might have been 40,000.
“That’s more than there are purse snatchings in the United States,” Popper said. “You can’t talk about that being vanishingly small anymore.”