- Bob Ratterman Contributing Writer
Virginia’s highly publicized tied election race in which the winner was chosen by drawing a name involved a woman who grew up here.
Shelly Simonds endured a roller-coaster post-election which saw her first lose by 10 votes then be declared the winner by one vote and then have a court declare one ambiguous vote in favor of her opponent, making the election a tie. Republican Dave Yancey then was declared the winner when their names were placed in film canisters and his name drawn from a bowl.
The two were running for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, which prior to the election had been controlled by Republicans by a 66-34 margin. If Simonds had been seated, the House would have been split 50-50, requiring shared power and more public debate on issues, she said.
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Yancey’s being seated in the 94th district allowed Republicans to maintain control, 51-49.
“Our election determined whether there would be power sharing. Power sharing would have been positive for Virginia,” Simonds said. “The way Virginia works, (committees are proportional). There is a lot of committee work, and many ideas never make it to the floor for public debate. A lot of good ideas die that way. Fifty-fifty sharing of committees would mean a lot of good ideas would get out of committee and get to a vote on the floor of the house.”
The official election results showed Simonds and Yancey tied at 11,608 votes, but the original election-night count had Yancey winning by ten votes. A Dec. 19 recount, however, had Simonds ahead by one vote. It was then Yancey supporters “pulled a stunt,” according to Simonds, and went to court to get one ballot declared viable.
A three-judge panel ruled in his favor, and the election became a tie.
“The story kept changing. At one point, it was only a recount. Then, it became a story of the way one vote counts and a miracle. Then, it turned sinister when the judges got involved,” Simonds said. “They broke the rules for a recount. They violated state law. They can only count a ballot once but they went back several times. It is an important tenet of recounts in Virginia they do not want people going back and recounting neighborhoods again.”
The ballot in question seemed to have both names marked but a single strike through Simonds’ name. On that same ballot, the voter had marked in the oval for the Republican governor candidate but put an X through the oval. It was originally put aside as an invalid ballot, but Yancey’s supporters went to court to have it declared a vote for him and the court accepted it, creating the tie.
“It was hard to see the court accept the ballot,” she said, adding there are state guidelines for accepting ballots. “They have a book with 130 examples of votes that can be counted. That vote was not in there as an acceptable vote. It was a spoiled ballot.”
With the court ruling, however, the two candidates’ names were placed in film canisters and stirred up with one drawn out to determine Yancey the winner. He was then seated in the House of Delegates.
Simonds, a Talawanda High School graduate, was joined at the drawing by her husband, Paul Danehy, and their daughter, Georgia, 16. Their other daughter, Tessa, 18 and a freshman at the University of Virginia, was unable to get there because of difficult road conditions due to a snow storm.
She is the daughter of George and Mickey Simonds, former owners of Travel Unlimited. George Simonds served for many years as Oxford Twp. trustee.
The election was Shelly Simonds’ second attempt to win a seat in the House of Delegates. She was defeated two years earlier.
She was also hampered by the fact she came into the race late because another Democrat had withdrawn and her campaign did not even start until August. Yancey’s campaign was well-funded, she said, and he spent a lot of money on television advertising.
She does serve on the Newport News board of education, having won a second term in 2016. It’s a large district of nearly 30,000 students.
She is still involved in political issues, she said, speaking about her state election outcome on the day she was driving to Richmond to talk about education issues.
“I’m going to Richmond to advocate for teachers’ salaries. We need funding for district schools,” she said, explaining school funding is different from Ohio. “We do not have bonding initiatives. We have to go to city government for funding. The state of Virginia does not provide money or even a funding mechanism.”
Simonds said the Washington Post sent a political reporter to cover the recount and then, afterward, a features writer to do a profile of her, which published recently.
She said she learned a lot from the campaign as well as her race two years earlier for the same seat. She promises to try again.
“I think voters in Virginia want change and see some involvement. I’ve gotten letters of support from around the country,” she said. “I’m happy I can tell the story about the importance of voting. This loss is a shared loss for my community. I’m not the only one who feels it deeply.”
She said she will be a stronger candidate next time and intends to carry the message about people voting.
“Voting really matters more than ever. We’ll have bigger turnouts for a long time,” she said. “I hope people in Butler County come to the polls and bring relatives and friends to the polls with them.”