VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – A three-judge panel overseeing a recount in a close Virginia state House race upheld the Republican candidate’s victory on Friday, a decision that also reaffirms the GOP’s takeover of the chamber and completes the party's sweep of last month's elections.
Republicans also claimed the statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in the Nov. 2 balloting. Those wins were a dramatic turnaround in a state where the GOP had not won a statewide race since 2009. Democrats still hold a 21-19 majority in the Senate — where elections won’t be held until 2023 — splitting control of Virginia’s state legislature.
The certified results from the election showed Republicans leading in 52 districts and the Democrats leading in 48. The recount in the 85th District race resulted in Democratic incumbent Alex Askew gaining 12 votes, but he still trailed Republican challenger Karen Greenhalgh by 115 votes. There was one contested ballot. The panel found that the intent of the voter was unclear, so that ballot was not counted for either candidate. The 85th District covers a portion of the city of Virginia Beach.
After Democrats requested recounts in two races with razor-thin margins, that left open the remote possibility of a 50-50 split.
Though the second recount, in the 91st District, is still expected to proceed next week, Democrats no longer have a shot at undoing the GOP’s majority. Askew is an incumbent freshmen first elected in 2019, when Democrats flipped both the House and Senate.
After the recount results were announced, Askew thanked his supporters, campaign staff and volunteers.
“While this is not the outcome we hoped for, I continue to be filled with optimism for the future of our Commonwealth and of the city of Virginia Beach,” he said in a statement.
House Republicans — who won 52 districts, according to the certified results — had said they were confident their candidates’ leads would hold.
“With only one recount outstanding, House Republicans are excited to begin working for the people of Virginia. Now that the majority is official, we can move forward with a timely transition as to be prepared to work on day one," Speaker-designee Todd Gilbert said in a statement after the results were announced.
Outgoing House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn praised Askew for his work in the House and congratulated Greenhalgh on her victory.
“While the results of the recount did not change the initial outcome of the election, it was a necessary step to ensuring faith in our Democratic process. And a similar, necessary process to ensure every vote is counted will occur next week in House District 91,” Filler-Corn said in a statement.
Minnesota is the only other state with Democrats and Republicans splitting control of legislative chambers. In Alaska, Republicans have the majority in both chambers, but the state House is controlled by a coalition of Democrats, independents and two Republicans. Nebraska has just a single state legislative chamber.
Throughout the day Thursday and into Friday, people packed into a room in the second floor of an elections building in Virginia Beach as the ballots were fed into two scanning machines. Groups of people sat at tables and scrutinized any ballots that were determined by the machines to have write-in candidates, were not clearly marked or had some other issue.
There were no discussions or arguments during the hearing about who the winner of the race would be. Once the panel of judges ruled that the contested ballot — which had both bubbles filled in for the candidates but a slash through Greenhalgh’s name — was too unclear to be counted, they called for a tally of the votes from the registrar's office. Virginia Beach Chief Circuit Court Judge Leslie Lilley then quickly found that Greenhalgh would be the 85th District’s next delegate.
Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.