Two recounts appear likely in tight Virginia House races

Eileen Filler-Corn, Todd Gilbert

FILE – In this Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, file photo, Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, left, talks with House Minority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, during the House session at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Va. Democratic control of Virginia state government over the past two years has allowed lawmakers to dramatically reshape public policy with legislation reforming the criminal justice system, loosening abortion restrictions and expanding voting access. In the Nov. 2, 2021, election, the balance of power in the 100-seat House of Delegates is on the line. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Days after Democrats conceded control of the Virginia House of Delegates to Republicans, they walked back that concession as two key races in which the GOP holds razor-thin leads appeared headed for recounts.

As of Tuesday, vote counts show Republicans with 50 seats and holding slight leads in two additional seats that have still not been called by The Associated Press. Democrats have 47 seats and are leading in one other district that has not been called.

In both districts where Republicans are leading, the margins are under 0.5%, which allows candidates to request state-funded recounts.

In District 91, Democrat incumbent Del. Martha Mugler conceded to Republican challenger A.C. Cordoza Friday. Mugler’s concession was quickly followed by a statement from Democratic House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, who acknowledged that with Mugler’s concession, the Republicans had control of the House, with 51 seats.

But Mugler walked back her concession over the weekend after final absentee and provisional ballots were tallied and Hampton corrected an error in its vote count, shrinking Cordoza’s lead to just 94 votes out of 27,388 votes counted.

In House District 85, Republican challenger Karen Greenhalgh’s lead over Democratic incumbent Del. Alex Askew narrowed to just 127 votes out of 28,413 votes counted after final absentee and provisional ballots were tallied.

Filler-Corn also appeared to temper her concession.

“The speaker’s stance is that there are provisions in place to make sure we can be certain what the outcomes are, and it’s always good to check. We’re just seeing what the outcome is going to be,” Filler-Corn spokesperson Sigalle Reshef said Tuesday.

Republicans, who celebrated last week after flipping at least five Democratic-held seats to bring their total to at least 50 — giving them at least a tie in the House — said they are confident that they will win both races that are now eligible for recounts.

“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,” said Garren Shipley, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert.

Recounts in Virginia are not automatic. Under state law, a candidate cannot request a recount until the results are officially certified by the state Board of Elections. The board is scheduled to meet Nov. 15 to certify the results. Once that happens, Mugler and Askew will have up to 10 days to file a petition in court requesting a recount. A “recount court” of three judges would then oversee the process. In 2017, when partisan control of the House came down to a pivotal Hampton Roads seat, the recount was not held until late December.

Kate Sarna, a spokesperson for the House Democratic caucus, declined to comment on whether Mugler and Askew intend to seek recounts.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Mugler said that in light of a “significant shift” in the vote count since the night of the election, “we think it wise to do our due diligence to make sure every vote is fairly and accurately counted.”

“We will allow the process the full time and effort it takes to ensure accuracy,” she said.

On Nov. 2, Republicans flipped the Democratic-held offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in a red surge. The state Senate has a slim 21-19 Democratic majority, with elections scheduled for 2023.

The Republican victories are seen in part as a backlash against a series of progressive reforms that the former Democratic majority pushed through over the past two years, making Virginia an outlier in the South. Those included repealing the death penalty, loosening abortion restrictions and legalizing marijuana.

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