Virginia’s House of Delegates 94th District captured America’s attention last week after a dramatic saga of vote counts and recounts culminated in a perfectly tied election. Both three-term Republican incumbent David Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds received 11,608 votes, a rare feat that had electoral enthusiasts across the country ecstatic about democracy in action. On the surface, this race is a testament to the power of the American electoral system. A historically important election came down to a single citizen’s vote, and yet every citizen was an essential part of the outcome. The symmetry somehow implies harmony, evoking images of Smalltown, USA, where politics exist in perfect balance. But this bizarre fluke of democracy is no reason to celebrate. This outcome should leave Americans feeling deeply uncomfortable.
Elections this close don’t promote the values of compassion and inclusivity that people, especially the youngest and largest generations, are increasingly seeking in their elected officials. This is the type of vote that inspires ire and action by the political fringes. Razor-thin victories leave people feeling cheated. It’s hard to build a governing coalition on miniscule margins.
This particular voting bloc in Newport News isn’t a miraculously representative microcosm of the American electorate either. As in many other districts, the people who voted Nov. 7 don’t reflect the constituency as a whole. According to the state election board, the Virginia 94th has more than 48,000 active registered voters, but not even half showed up on Nov. 7 to cast a ballot.