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Judge denies request to block Republican from taking office in Virginia House

010518 Correll VA House of Delegates photo
On Friday, the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. refused to block Republican Bob Thomas (pictured left) from being sworn in to the House of Delegates. Democrat Joshua Cole (pictured right), who was deemed the original winner, had issued a challenge after a recount made Thomas the winner instead. (Mike Morones/The Free Lance-Star)

Judge T.S. Ellis III of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria denied a request to prevent a Republican Bob Thomas from being sworn in as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, rejecting a Democratic challenge that banked on the more than 100 voters had cast ballots in the wrong district.

Ellis refused to issue a preliminary injunction to block Thomas and cited that the plaintiff did not make a convincing case that they were likely to succeed.

“I think the officials in these precincts made a reasonable decision to rely on the data they had,” Ellis said.

The ruling marks the second defeat this week for the Democrats in Virginia, further dampening their hopes to end Republican control of the House of Delegates.

Ellis admitted that the mishap was “a big deal” to those impacted, but hedged that on the rationalization that “there are other big deals” such as “federal courts sticking their noses into state election procedure."

The judge ruled that the ballot mixup did not meet the standard by which to involve the federal courts.

Ellis left the door open for a special election, but said that Democrat Joshua Cole and the plaintiffs must provide more substantial evidence. Ellis also said Thomas could be removed after he is sworn in if the plaintiffs make a better argument to show that the election was flawed.

Thomas was originally ruled the winner over Cole by 73 votes in House District 28. But later it was revealed that an error by a registrar meant 384 voters had been designated to incorrect districts, resulting in four of those voters taking the issue to court because their right to vote had been hampered.

Despite a recount, Thomas remained the winner.

Republicans have maintained a majority in the House after it was announced incumbent Republican David Yancey won another highly contested race on Thursday.

State officials randomly selected a winner Thursday in a drawing after it appeared the Yancey and his Democratic challenger Shelly Simmonds had both received the same amount of votes.

Although Yancey was selected, Simmonds can pursue another recount, which would prevent Yancey from being seated when the General Assembly meets on Wednesday. Even so, Republicans would hold a 50-49 majority when they select the next speaker, unless plaintiffs in the 28th District lawsuit bar Thomas from serving.