Two Virginia House races headed for recounts

FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2020 file photo, House Republicans sit in their seats as Democratic lawmakers applaud Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam as he delivers his State of the Commonwealth address before a joint session of the Assembly at the state Capitol in Richmond, Va. Some criminal justice activists are disappointed by the number of reform proposals that have stalled in Virginia's legislature this year, despite a new Democratic majority. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

RICHMOND, Va. — Two incumbent Democrats who trail Republican challengers in close races in Virginia’s House of Delegates announced Tuesday that they will seek recounts, leaving control of the House in limbo.

Republicans have won 50 seats and Democrats have won 48. Republicans hold razor-thin margins in the two remaining races that are headed to a recount, according to certified results from the Nov. 2 election, leaving open a remote possibility of a 50-50 split in the chamber.

The Associated Press hasn’t called those two races: District 91, where Republican A.C. Cordoza leads Democratic Del. Martha Mugler by 94 votes out of 27,388 votes counted; and District 85, where Republican Karen Greenhalgh leads Democratic Del. Alex Askew by 127 votes out of 28,413 votes counted. The margin in both races is under 0.5%, which allows losing candidates to request state-funded recounts.

Recounts in Virginia are overseen by three-judge panels. It is unclear how long the process will take, but in 2017, when partisan control of the House came down to a pivotal Hampton Roads seat, the recount was not held until late December.

If Republicans hold on to those two seats in the recounts, they will have a 52-48 majority over Democrats in the House when a new legislative session convenes in January. If the recounts change the outcome of one or both races, the GOP would hold a 51-49 majority or tie at 50-50 with Democrats.

Department of Elections Commissioner Chris Piper told a Richmond civic group last week that recounts are unlikely to change the outcomes of the races because of the size of the margins.

“We conducted a safe, secure and incredibly smooth election,” Piper told the Board of Elections just before it voted 5-0 to certify the election results.

If Republicans hold on to District 85 or District 91, they will control the House and complete an elections sweep in which they also reclaimed the offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The state Senate has a slim 21-19 Democratic majority, with elections scheduled for 2023.