The battle for control of the House of Delegates has focused most attention on a battle over the 28th District in Stafford County. Fifty-five ballots arrived too late to be counted, which left Republican Bob Thomas ahead of Democrat Joshua Cole by 82 votes. Democrats sued over the matter, but their case was thrown out of court — and properly so.
Democrats stand on stronger footing in the latest imbroglio. Eighty-three voters seemingly were assigned to the wrong House district. As a result, the State Board of Elections has declined to certify the results in the 28th District or the adjoining 88th.
The 88th District is solidly Republican and in no danger of flipping. The 28th District is more up in the air — although any honest assessment must give long odds against the Democrats’ hope of reversing the result. Proving that Cole would have won the election would require proving that all 83 voters were incorrectly removed from the 28th District by mistake, that all 83 of them would have voted, and that all 83 of them would have voted for Cole.
It seems more likely that some of the 83 voters were erroneously removed from the neighboring 88th district, where the uncertified tally gives the Republican incumbent a lead of more than 4,000 votes. (To confuse matters even more, the incumbent, Mark Cole, has the same last name as the Democratic challenger in the 28th District.)
Nevertheless, Democrats might be able to make the case that a special election should be held for the 28th District once all the voters are sorted into the correct districts. Were they to succeed and were Cole to win, then the GOP majority in the House would give way to an even split between the parties.
Nullifying the result in the 28th and ordering a new election should not be done lightly. But it would be wrong to brush aside the current uncertainties and certify the existing result, no matter how much GOP operatives yell and pound the table. The nation already did that once in the 2000 case of Bush v. Gore. Here’s hoping that episode taught Virginia the right lessons.