Virginia House control in limbo; recounts sought in 2 races

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Two incumbent Democrats who trail Republican challengers in close races in Virginia’s House of Delegates announced Tuesday that they will seek recounts, leaving control of the chamber in limbo.

Republicans have won 50 seats and Democrats have won 48. Republicans hold razor-thin margins in the two remaining races that are headed to recounts, according to certified results from the Nov. 2 election, leaving open a remote possibility of a 50-50 split in the chamber.

The Associated Press hasn’t called the races. In District 91, Republican A.C. Cordoza leads Democratic Del. Martha Mugler by 94 votes out of 27,388 counted. In District 85, Republican Karen Greenhalgh leads Democratic Del. Alex Askew by 127 votes out of 28,413 counted. The margin in both races is under 0.5%, which allows losing candidates to request state-funded recounts.

“Voting is a privilege, and we must honor every person who came out and exercised one of our most fundamental rights by ensuring that each vote is properly accounted for,” Askew said in a news release.

Several days after the election, Mugler conceded the race to her Republican challenger, but later tempered that concession, saying that she had been made aware of an error that occurred while reporting vote counts in her district. On Tuesday, she said she decided to seek a recount “in order to exercise all possible due diligence.”

“My constituents in Hampton, Poquoson, and York should be able to feel confident that we've taken every step to make sure their votes are counted accurately,” Mugler said in a news release.

“I trust the process and will rely on the methods put in place to uphold fair elections in the Commonwealth, including a recount,” she said.

Both Mugler and Askew are incumbent freshmen who were first elected in 2019, when Democrats flipped both the House and Senate.

Garren Shipley, a spokesman for House Republican Leader-designate Todd Gilbert, said GOP leaders believe the recounts will reconfirm the party's leads in both races.

“Based on past experience and our experience with observers on the ground, we are confident we will have 52 seats when the new General Assembly convenes in January,” Shipley said. Gilbert was elected by House Republican leaders Sunday as the incoming speaker.

Recounts in Virginia are overseen by three-judge panels. It is unclear how long the process will take, but in 2017, when partisan control of the House came down to a pivotal Hampton Roads seat, the recount was not held until late December.

If Republicans hold on to those two seats in the recounts, they will have a 52-48 majority over Democrats in the House. If the recounts change the outcome of one or both races, the GOP would hold a 51-49 majority or tie at 50-50 with Democrats.

Department of Elections Commissioner Chris Piper told a Richmond civic group last week that recounts are unlikely to change the outcomes of the races because of the size of the margins.

“We conducted a safe, secure and incredibly smooth election,” Piper told the Board of Elections just before it voted 5-0 to certify the election results.

If Republicans hold on to District 85 or District 91, they will control the House and complete an elections sweep in which they also reclaimed the offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The state Senate has a slim 21-19 Democratic majority, with elections scheduled for 2023.