Control of Virginia's House Of Delegates Rests With 2 Film Canisters Ari Shapiro speaks to James Alcorn, chairman of Virginia's board of elections, about drawing a film canister from a crystal bowl with a slip of paper to see which candidate becomes a state delegate.

Control of Virginia's House Of Delegates Rests With 2 Film Canisters

Control of Virginia's House Of Delegates Rests With 2 Film Canisters

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NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with James Alcorn, chairman of Virginia's board of elections, about drawing a film canister from a crystal bowl tomorrow, which will have a slip of paper that will decide which candidate will become a state delegate. It will also determine whether the Republican Party will keep control of the state House, or if the delegates will be split with the Democrats.


Control of Virginia's House of Delegates is teetering on a knife edge. One delegate race is undecided in Virginia's 94th District. If the Republican wins, the GOP will control the Virginia House. If the Democrat wins, the parties will share control. The 94th District had a recount and a court ruling, and now that race is tied with 11,608 votes each. Tomorrow a random drawing will determine the winner of the race and control of the Virginia House. James Alcorn is the chair of Virginia's Board of Elections. Welcome to the program.

JAMES ALCORN: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: I understand you have a bit of news to begin this interview. Who's going to actually do the drawing?

ALCORN: Well, I took the chair's prerogative. And I'm going to be the one drawing the winning ballot tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: Should I offer you congratulations or condolences?

ALCORN: (Laughter) I'm not sure which one it is.

SHAPIRO: Last week you tweeted, we should find a nice hat for the drawing. So at least it sounds like you're keeping a sense of humor about this.

ALCORN: We are. You know, we're trying to have a little bit of a sense of humor about this, but we're also trying to be respectful of this decision since this has a large impact down here in Virginia not just for the members of this House of Delegates race but really for all Virginians.

SHAPIRO: I've heard this described as choosing lots, drawing straws, picking names from a hat. Tell us what you're actually going to do tomorrow.

ALCORN: Tomorrow we'll have two strips of paper with the two candidates' names on them. And we will put them into film canisters. You may recall those black and gray film canisters from the 1980s.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, back when people used cameras that took film.

ALCORN: Exactly, yeah. When was the last time you saw folks using those?

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

ALCORN: So we'll use those tomorrow. We will drop those into a bowl, stir them around. We will pull out both canisters. The first one pulled out will be the winner of this House of Delegates race. And we'll pull out the second one just to show everybody that both names were in the bowl.

SHAPIRO: I would have no idea where to find a film canister in 2017. Does the state have a stash of them somewhere?

ALCORN: Well, we do try to be good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars. So we've been using the same stash of film canisters for many, many years.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) It's one thing to use this technique to determine who's name appears first on a ballot, but there is so much at stake here determining who controls the Virginia House of Delegates. I know that this is the rule, but do you really think it's the best way to go about this?

ALCORN: You know, I'm going to defer to the wisdom of the General Assembly on this one. In this particular case, we're following the law that's been set out by the General Assembly. I would note that several other states have similar laws.

SHAPIRO: Have you talked to anybody who's done this before? Did they have any advice for you?

ALCORN: I have asked some folks who have done this at the local level for their advice and a history as to how they took care of this in the past. They said to be respectful of the decision, you know, maybe have a little bit of fun with it but ultimately to be decisive and to follow the law.

SHAPIRO: There's so much at stake in this drawing. Do you think you're going to have trouble sleeping tonight?

ALCORN: (Laughter) Yeah, a little bit. You know, we've had a lot of national attention on this. And as I said, this is going to have a big impact not just on the residents of this House of Delegates district but also for all Virginians.

SHAPIRO: That's James Alcorn, the chair of Virginia's Board of Elections. Tomorrow he will draw a name at random, determining who wins the House race in Virginia's 94th District and, with that, who controls the state House of Delegates. Thanks so much.

ALCORN: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: And one final postscript - the Democratic candidate for the Virginia House seat, Shelly Simonds, is suing to stop tomorrow's drawing. She disputes the tied results and wants a three-judge panel to declare her the winner.

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