RICHMOND (CN) – Voters who believe they were disenfranchised by election officials during Virginia’s 2017 general election appeared in federal court Friday afternoon in the hopes of getting a special election called for a still-contested state house race.
In a complaint filed in December, Fredericksburg, Virginia resident Kenneth Lecky and several of his neighbors claim that after arriving at their local polling place on Nov. 7 they were given a ballot that did not include the name of Democratic candidate Joshua Cole.
They claim that as a result of a registrar error, they and an estimated 146 other Fredericksburg residents were given the wrong ballots.
And the error may have played a significant role in deciding the contest, they say.
The eventual victor in the race to represent state House District 28, Republican Robert Thomas Jr., won by only 82 votes.
“The widespread deprivation of the proper ballots to lawful voters and acceptance of illegal votes undermined the fundamental fairness of the general election,” the plaintiffs say.
They want a special election held to decide who will represent the district, preferably before the Virginia legislature opens their next session on Jan. 10.
The filing of the complaint sparked a series of legal challenges and a recount that reduced Thomas’s margin of victory to just 73 votes.
That takes us to today’s hearing where lawyers for Lecky will go before an Alexandria District Court to ask a judge to force Governor Terry McAuliffe to issue a new special election for the district in line with state law.
While Cole is not a party in the suit, he is hoping the court grants the plaintiffs’ request.
“The decision as to who should represent them should be placed squarely in [the voter’s] hands,” he said.
The nonpartisan League of Women Voters agrees.
On Friday, Sue Lewis, president of the organization’s Virginia chapter, said her group’s main focus is making sure every vote counts and the mix-up in district 28 does the opposite.
“It’s very clear that people have disenfranchised,” Lewis said. “How it is going to be resolved is another issue. [A special election] seems to be the only fair way to resolve this … Every vote needs to be counted.”
But a filing asking the court to dismiss Lecky’s complaint, written by lawyers for Board of Election officials, argues the incorrect ballots were an accident and not the product of malicious intent.
“At most, the well-pled facts establish that innocent or negligent errors were made in the administration of the Election,” the motion to dismiss the complaint says. “These facts fail to establish an Equal Protection or Due Process claim as a matter of law.”
The court’s decision could weigh heavy on the Commonwealth’s upcoming legislative session.
After a random drawing Thursday gave the victory in another state House race to incumbent Republican Del. David Yancey, the 100 seat legislature is currently split 51-49 in favor of the GOP.
If the court sides with Lecky, that would force the session to start down one legislator. If Cole wins the special election, it would divide the house 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, forcing a unique power-sharing agreement unseen in the Virginia General Assembly in decades.