A 50-50 Tie in the House of Delegates

shared control of the House of Delegates occurred only in 1997-99, when there weew 50 delegates caucusing with each of the two political parties
shared control of the House of Delegates occurred only in 1997-99, when there weew 50 delegates caucusing with each of the two political parties
Source: Virginia General Assembly, About the Capitol - High School

The House of Delegates has 100 members. Whenever there is a tie vote, the proposal is defeated.

However, there is no mechanism for resolving a tie vote when initially organizing the chamber, electing the Speaker of the House and determining committee chairs and members. If there are 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, the state constitution has provided for no tie-breaker equivalent to the Lieutenant Governor in the State Senate.

A 50-50 tie has been created once. The Democrats had 51 members after the 1997 election. Governor Jim Gilmore convinced Del. David G. Brickley (D-Prince William) to resign his seat and serve in the executive branch, as the head of the Department of Conservation and Recreation. (A similar offer convinced State Senator Charles L. Waddell to resign his seat and shift control of State Senate to the Republican Party.)

The chair of the Democratic Party complained about Gov. Gilmore's offers:1

These are cleverly crafted back-room deals with people who are not necessarily qualified for the jobs to which they are being appointed... He is using the appointment process for the deliberate purpose of skewing the voters' will.

There were three special elections on January 13, 1998. Republicans won all three, but the General Assembly session started three days before those elections were certified by the State Board of Elections. The Virginia Supreme Court rejected a Republican effort to accelerate the process and get the new delegates certified immediately by the State Board of Elections.

With only 97 certified members in the House of Delegates, Democrats re-elected Thomas W. Moss Jr. as Speaker, despite Republican "screaming, shouting, banging on the desks, cursing on the floor."2

After the three new delegates were seated, the Republicans convinced Del. Lacey Putney to caucus formally with them. Putney had been elected first as a Democrat in 1961. He shifted his status to Independent in the late 1960's, as the conservative-liberal philosophies of Virginia's state political parties realigned to match the national parties. When he chose to caucus with the Republicans in 1998, he created a 50-50 tie in the House of Delegates. For the first time in over a century, the Democratic Party did not control the House of Delegates.3

Source: Library of Virginia, “Objection, Mr. Chairman!” – The Opening Session Of The 1998 House Of Delegates

A power-sharing agreement was reached after a long day of back-room negotiations. It was adopted by a 90-2 vote, and incorporated in the 1998-1999 Rules of the House of Delegates.4

Moss got to remain as Speaker. As Speaker, he assigned all members to all 20 committees, but this time he had to consider the recommendations submitted by the Republicans. His assignments reflected the reality that the Republicans had half of the power in the House of Delegates, and bills on issues such as charter schools and abortion could no longer be bottled up in committees controlled by the Democrats.

Most committees were expanded from 22 to 24 members, and the Appropriations Committee grew from 22 to 30 members. An equal number of Republicans were appointed to 19 of the 20 committees, for the first time in the history of the House of Delegates. Committees were given co-chairs, and the chair rotated between members of each party. Some committee chairs switched places at the end of each legislative day, while others agreed to switch at the end of the year.

Democrats lost the ability to ignore the opposition even when it offered constructive proposals. Republicans who had previously been free to primarily criticize had to take the responsibility of governing. Everyone had to learn how to do business in a changed environment, and develop bipartisan coalitions that addressed shared regional concerns rather than focus on partisan opposition.

Only the Rules Committee retained an unbalanced number of members, with eight Democrats and seven Republicans. Speaker of the House Thomas Moss was the chair.

Republicans were delighted to see the Speaker humbled; they did not view him as a negotiator they could trust. There were hard feelings from past actions. The party chair told a Washington Post reporter that:5

Moss has upheld a tradition in which Democratic speakers punished Republicans who spoke out of turn on the House floor by raising three fingers -- signaling that the next three GOP bills would be summarily killed.

Power-sharing had a major impact on lobbyists. In the past, they could focus their attention and campaign contributions on a small number of key leaders in one party. As authority was decentralized, lobbyists wre forced to deal with all 100 delegates. Del. Bob McDonnell (who was later elected governor) joked:7

We were under one-party domination longer than the Russians. It is a liberating feeling

The conference committee which develops the final state budget was also transformed by the parity of the two parties in 1998. The State Senate ended up with a 21-19 Republican majority, and the House of Delegates was evenly split with 50 members caucusing with each party. The conference committee was expanded from eight to 12 members. For the first time ever, half were Republicans.

House Speaker Thomas Moss retailiated against Del. Lacey Putney by not appointing him to the conference committee. In the House of Delegates, the Speaker personally determines which legislator will serve on each committee. In a demonstration of his remaining authority and pique at the power-sharing agreement, Speaker Moss chose two junior Republicans rather than the Republican members with seniority for the all-important conference committee.8

The power-sharing agreement written in 1998 said it would last for four years, unless one party gained a majority of 55 seats or more. It was supposed to continue after the 2001 elections, unless one party won a majority of 53 or more seats.

After the 1999 elections, Republicans had 52 seats plus support from Independent Del. Lacey Putney, and elected a Republican as Speaker of the House. After the 2001 election, Republicans controlled 64 seats and had support from Independent Del. Lacey Putney. The 2001 elections ended the power-sharing agreement, but Speakers have continued to assign members to committees based on proportional membership in the House of Delegates.9

A 20-20 Tie in the State Senate

General Assembly

Voting in Modern Virginia

What Happens If the Vote Ends In a Tie?



1. "Job Offers Called GOP Plot," Washington Post, January 1, 1998, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/vastateleg/issues/party2.htm (last checked February 5, 2019)
2. "Speakership Battle Brews In House," Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 11, 1998, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB4FAD05C32BDC7?p=AWNB; "Elections Battle Heads To Courts - GOP, Democrats Plan To File Lawsuits," Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 12, 1998, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB4FAD088CF652E?p=AWNB; "GOP Rules Elections, Not House - High Court Rejects Try To Speed Winners' Certification," Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 14, 1998, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB4FAD0E0E4D0B7?p=AWNB; " `Objection! Objection!' - General Assembly Gets Off To Boisterous Start - Moss Maintains Speakership Amid Uproar," Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 15, 1998, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB4FAD10D0F45B4?p=AWNB (last checked February 5, 2019)
3. "Job Offers Called GOP Plot," Washington Post, January 1, 1998, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/vastateleg/issues/party2.htm (last checked February 5, 2019)
4. “'Objection, Mr. Chairman!' – The Opening Session Of The 1998 House Of Delegates," Library of Virginia, http://www.virginiamemory.com/blogs/out_of_the_box/2018/01/08/objection-mr-chairman-the-opening-session-of-the-1998-house-of-delegates/ (last checked February 5, 2019)
5. "Equal-Say Agreement Is Reached - House Democrats Cede Control," Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 16, 1998, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB4FAD1308A7BAD?p=AWNB; "Delegates Receive Panel Duties - Moss' Assignments Strike A Balance," Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 20, 1998, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB4FAD2020F11BA?p=AWNB; "Conservatives, N.VA. Win In House Accord," Washington Post, January 17, 1998, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1998/01/17/conservatives-nva-win-in-house-accord/e60a71c7-9c55-4a52-b085-d217b6c4157a/; "GOP, Democrats To Share Power In Virginia House," Washington Post, January 16, 1998, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1998/01/16/gop-democrats-to-share-power-in-virginia-house/219aaf19-287c-425c-8d19-680115a56468/ (last checked February 5, 2019)
6. "Power Sharing Means Changes In The Rules," Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 22, 1998, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB4FAD9324B2145?p=AWNB (last checked February 5, 2019)
7. "Virginia Lawmakers Stumble Through Uneasy Power-Sharing Dance," Washington Post, March 3, 1998, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/vastateleg/issues/powersharing030398.htm (last checked February 5, 2019)
8. "Just Call Them the Legislature's Dealing Dozen - 12 Could Forge Budget Compromise," Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 5, 1998, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB4FADBA4EBC143?p=AWNB; "The Assembly Clock's Ticking - Will Winners Of This Year's Frays Be Losers Of Next Year's Elections?," Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 8, 1998, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB4FADC58673EF8?p=AWNB (last checked February 5, 2019)
9. "Power Shift In Richmond Could Be Bad News For Hampton Roads," Daily Press, October 18, 1999, https://www.dailypress.com/news/dp-xpm-19991018-1999-10-18-9910180020-story.html; "Change Came Slowly The First 65 Years - And Then At Warp-Speed," Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 12, 1999, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/0EB4FB1C215E37DD?p=AWNB; Frank B. Atkinson, Virginia in the Vanguard: Political Leadership in the 400-year-old Cradle of American Democracy, 1981-2006, Rowman & Littlefield, 2006, p.251, p.254, https://books.google.com/books?id=BqputiyLQ3QC (last checked February 5, 2019)

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