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In win for GOP, Virginia county ordered to assign new poll workers

Less than a week before Election Day, a judge ordered Prince William County to assign more election officers nominated by Republicans to oversee the voting process.

MANASSAS, Va. (CN) — With just days to go before the midterm election, a state judge on Wednesday ordered a county in northern Virginia to change its lineup of poll workers to ensure more precincts have both Republicans and Democrats overseeing voting.

The ruling is a victory for the Republican Party of Virginia and Prince William County Republican Committee, which filed suit against the county’s election board and Eric Olsen, its general registrar, on Oct. 19 in objection to the assignment of election officers in about 30 precincts.

"The General Assembly has identified the manner of selection of the officers of election. That selection method is predicated upon the participation of political parties in the process," wrote Thomas Horne, a retired judge from a neighboring county who is presiding over the case.

The Nov. 8 midterm is the first major national election since the 2020 presidential election ended with false claims of widespread voter fraud by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

The Virginia ruling comes as partisans are locked in disputes over election integrity across the country, including in Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina and many other states. In Michigan, the Republican Party filed a lawsuit last month alleging officials in Flint failed to hire enough Republican election workers to help administer the voting process.

The Prince William County lawsuit charges that poll workers appointed to represent the Republican Party "had previously voted in multiple primary elections to select candidates for the Democratic Party.” The Virginia GOP sought an injunction preventing the county from proceeding with the appointment of nonpartisan officers or those associated with the Democratic Party, and an order allowing the Republican Party to nominate representatives.

The Republican Party of Virginia described the ruling an important legal victory. In a statement on the party's website, Rich Anderson, chairman of the Virginia GOP said, “No one is above the law, and the Prince William County Elections Office violated state law by denying Republicans equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process. The Republican Party believes that to be fair, honest, and open, elections must be conducted following every rule in place. The Code of Virginia sets out clear rules about the appointment of officers of election representing the political parties. I’m pleased that Judge Horne agreed with our position.”

But attorneys for the Prince William County Electoral Board raised questions about whether the Republican Party had tried to work with the county in good faith. Political parties are supposed to file election officer nominations with the board "at least 10 days before Feb. 1 each year" and the Republicans missed that deadline, according to a brief filed Oct. 31 by the electoral board's legal team. Moreover, they “have not filed any nominations for approximately the last 20 years," the brief states.

"It's outrageous that the Republican committee did next to nothing to recruit new officers," remarked Keith Scarborough, secretary of the electoral board, after a hearing Wednesday in which Horne handed down a copy of his ruling from the bench. The judge had heard arguments from attorneys on Tuesday.

All the while, Olsen, the county registrar, worked to find and train election officers. "If there are problems on Election Day, it will be the result of this," Scarborough said of Republicans' push to shake up the poll worker lineup.

After the hearing, Olsen remarked that the long-term precedent troubled him. He said the GOP made no effort then placed a burden on the county days before the election.

"That has serious implications," he said.

The Republicans, represented by Gary Lawkowski of Dhillon Law, argue they had attempted to work with county election officials but were rebuffed.

Poll workers receive training before they serve, but even given the quick turnaround before the election there is “no reason why it can’t be done,” Lawkowski told the court Tuesday.

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