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Virginia will use a random drawing to pick the winner in its tied House of Delegates race

How do you break an electoral tie? Select film canisters from a bowl.

Ben Finley/AP
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

A recount for Virginia’s House of Delegates ended up in a tie, leaving the future balance of power in the body up to a random drawing next week that will involve slips of paper, film canisters, and a giant bowl.

The Virginian-Pilot reports that the drawing is scheduled for Wednesday, December 27, to break the tie between the incumbent delegate, Republican David Yancey, and Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds, who are fighting for a seat in Virginia’s 94th District.

James Alcorn, the chair of Virginia’s Board of Elections, told reporter Jordan Pascale that this process has been used for decades to figure out the order in which candidates are listed on the ballots. The not-so-high-tech process works like this, according to the Virginian-Pilot:

- Pieces of paper with each candidate's name will be printed and cut to the same size.

- The slips will be placed in old film canisters that the Election Department has on hold.

- Those canisters will go into a bowl and be thoroughly shaken up.

- Then a board member will pick one and that person declared the winner.

The incumbent Yancey led Simonds by a mere 10 votes after the November election. Officials recounted the ballots, and on Tuesday said Simonds had eked out a win by just one vote — 11,608 to Yancey’s 11,607.

But that victory didn’t last long. Yancey challenged the results over a ballot that had initially been discarded, explains Vox’s Andrew Prokop:

The ballot had bubbles for both Yancey and Simonds filled in, but there was a line drawn through the bubble for Simonds — suggesting that the voter may have crossed out his or her Simonds vote.

Ultimately, the judges sided with Yancey and said the ballot intended to cast a vote for him. This turned the race into a dead heat at 11,608 to 11,608.

But this random lottery will not only determine the winner of this district race — it could determine the balance of power in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Democrats’ surge in the November elections closed the gap with Republicans, and if Yancey wins the election, the party will hold on to a razor-thin majority of 51 to 49. If Simonds’s canister gets picked, however, Democrats and Republicans will split power.

However, if the luck of the literal draw doesn’t end up in a particular candidate’s favor, he or she does have one recourse: yet another recount.