Five days left. That’s all we have until polls for this years elections close across the nation, most crucially in Virginia. If you’ve been following along, you know the deal. The three statewide races and 100 House of Delegate races will be decided Tuesday night. But I want to get into an idea that I don’t think gets thrown around enough. What could happen in the event that the House of Delegates ends tied in Virginia after all the votes are counted?
It’s not likely, but it is more possible than you think
First, let me state that there are still much higher chances that either Democrats or Republicans end up with a clear majority. But I do think the probability of a tied House is somewhere between 10-15%.
There’s a pretty clear path that sees Republicans pick up five seats in the House of Delegates. I’m not going to say what I think those seats would be in respect of our ratings, but the path is there for Republicans.
A tie actually almost occurred in 2017, when a tied election in the 94th district between David Yancey and Shelly Simmonds went to a literal name drawn out of a hat. Yancey, the incumbent Republican, had his name drawn and kept the slim Republican majority. That avoided the potential for a power sharing agreement to occur for the second time in the body’s history. Yes, I said second time. A tie has occurred once, happening in 1998.
The 1998 power sharing agreement
After the 1997 elections, Republicans were in a pretty good spot. They were only down one seat in the House of Delegates and Jim Gilmore had just run away with the gubernatorial race.
Gilmore then did a couple of smart political moves. He appointed multiple blue dog Democrats from red seats in both the House and Senate to his cabinet to create openings for Republicans.
The plan worked and Republicans were able to get their 49th seat in the House of Delegates and, with the help of Independent Lacey Putney, the House was tied.
For the first time in Virginia’s history, a power sharing agreement had to be made. Speaker Tom Moss was allowed to remain in this agreement. However, Moss now had to consider Republican recommendations for committees, and every committee was expanded due to this agreement.
Every committee except for the Rules Committee also had to have an even number of Republicans and Democrats. Moss appointed himself to the Rules Committee as the 21st and tie breaking vote to keep that committee moving. The full extent of the deal lasted until 2000, when Republicans fully took control of the House of Delegates for the first time in over a century. That led to a new Republican Speaker and a Republican majority on rules.
The full agreement ended in 2001, when Republicans took a staggering 64 seats, which closed the agreement and shrunk back the committees to their normal sizes and divisions. There has not been a need for a true power sharing agreement since.
What would a similar agreement look like today?
I think that if after 2021 we saw a tied House, we would see some similarities to that 1998 agreement. The deal on committees would almost certainly be the same, with all of them having equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, barring the Rules Committee.
However, I don’t think Republicans would extend the same kindness to current Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn that they did to Tom Moss. This is a much more polarized era and Republicans are going to want to try and take the speakership. Especially if this scenario occurs with a Glenn Youngkin victory.
That doesn’t mean I think Democrats will give up on the Speakership, I just think it may mean they move on without Filler-Corn in that role. For Democrats, three clear options come to mind as Speaker replacements in the event of a tied House of Delegates. All come from NOVA: Ken Plum, Kaye Kory, and Vivian Watts. All three are long-time elected Democrats who aren’t super progressive. I could see enough Republicans accepting any of them as Speaker.
Kory and Watts are solid options if Democrats want to keep the Speaker position held by a woman. Plum would be a move that would probably be seen as a clearer uniter. He has served in the House of Delegates since the 70’s and if this becomes his final term, I can see long-serving Republicans be willing to give him the Speakership in this situation as a final send-off.
For Republicans there are really only two potential names I could see getting Democratic votes for Speaker. Carrie Coyner from the 62nd and Rob Bloxom Jr. from the 100th are generally regarded as the two most moderate Republicans in the House of Delegates. I actually think Bloxom would be more favored by Republicans and also more likely to pass through. Coyner has the disadvantage of being a Delegate for only two (very likely to soon be four) years, while Bloxom has been around since 2014 and his father was a well-regarded member in his time.
Either way, under a power-sharing agreement, it’s almost certain that the position of Speaker would be hotly contested. And in this new era of polarization in politics, that could lead to unprecedented gridlock in Virginia.
I want to remind readers again that this situation is still rather unlikely. The probability of there being at least 51 Democrats or 51 Republicans is still greater than a tie. That is just based on recent history and where those seats are located that would need to flip to the GOP or stay with Democrats.
We should not however, underestimate the likelihood of this happening. There is a path for the GOP to get to five seats, and if they can get to those five seats, then we will have to go this chaotic situation. And with how the last five years have been, I would be remiss to dismiss the possibility. So I recommend you don’t dismiss it either.