Virginia Elections Board Extends Filing Deadline for House Hopefuls

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — The Virginia Board of Elections voted to extend a campaign filing deadline for several congressional candidates Tuesday afternoon, citing confusion caused by postponed conventions and primaries.

“These requirements give certainty to the election calendar and give legitimacy to the election process,” Board of Elections Chair Robert Brink said in a meeting conducted virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. “After the deadline everyone knows who the candidates will be… but we’re not getting legitimacy or certainty.” 

The Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. (Photo via Anderskev/Wikipedia Commons)

As with every other election around the country, the outbreak of Covid-19 was linked to the mix-up. Between an executive order from Governor Ralph Northam and an order from a Richmond City judge, conventions and primary dates were pushed back to accommodate virus-related concerns. They did not, however, change the deadlines for ballot paperwork as defined by state law.

Still, a 2-1 majority of the state elections board won the day after hearing from the public and candidates during the nearly hour-long hearing, voting to give candidates 10 more days to file.

Former board member Clara Belle Wheeler was among those who called in. She said the deadlines existed as a form of due process, with the same rules and regulations applying to all candidates. 

“If you don’t fill out your paperwork then you miss your deadline,” she said. “The filings are there for a reason… otherwise we have chaos.”

But former Congressman Tom Garrett, a Republican, spoke in support of granting the extension. 

“These [candidates] have put you in a tough spot, but the party picks who the nominee is,” he said before pointing to the hundreds of thousands of voters who deserve to have a candidate from their party on the ballot.

“Because of the draconian nature of the sanction, precluding someone from being on the ballot all together, that flies in the face of everything we’re trying to do,” Garrett added. 

While the decision impacts a handful of candidates running for Congress across the commonwealth, arguably the biggest winners are Bob Good and Nick Freitas, two Republicans hoping to win seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in November. 

Good recently beat out incumbent Republican Denver Riggleman for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District seat. Good was nominated over Riggleman at a June 14 GOP convention that the incumbent had claimed involved backroom dealing to give Good the win.

Describing himself as a Christian conservative, Good was senior associate athletics director at preacher Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University and announced his run in the wake of Riggleman, a libertarian-leaning Republican who runs a local distillery, officiating a same-sex wedding for two male campaign staffers. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the nomination of candidates throughout the country this year, including in Virginia,” Chris Ashby, a Washington-based elections lawyer, wrote on behalf of Good in a letter to the board ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. “As a result, Virginia candidates this year faced the anomalous—indeed, unprecedented— situation of having to file their 501 forms before the conclusion of their nominating events.”

Good will now be on the ballot this fall, but his far-right views have some on the left thinking the longtime Republican seat could flip with the fresh-faced Dr. Cameron Webb recently locking in Democratic nomination.  

Freitas, a sitting member of the Virginia House of Delegates, is no stranger to bids for higher office. Undoubtedly a staunch conservative, he lost a GOP Senate primary bid to Corey Stewart in 2018. But Stewart, who ran a brash anti-immigration and pro-Trump campaign, lost the race to incumbent Democrat Tim Kaine by 16 points. 

This is also Freitas’s second run-in with ballot paperwork mistakes. He failed to file the correct documents for his 2019 House of Delegates run but managed to pull ahead with a write-in campaign. 

His GOP challengers include a fellow member of the House of Delegates, John McGuire, along with several other Republicans who also failed to file the required paperwork. Freitas and McGuire, however, are the favorites leading into the 7th Congressional District convention scheduled for later this month. 

Whoever wins will take on former CIA staffer and Democratic incumbent Abigail Spanberger, who narrowly won her seat in 2018 as part of the post-Trump blue wave. 

While Freitas didn’t submit documents ahead of the meeting, a letter from the Virginia Republican Party’s lawyer Chris Marston similarly pointed to the virus as cause for the late filing. 

“Despite the language of the code, candidates — whether Democratic, Republican, or Independent — have widely considered ‘primary day’ to be the deadline for the filing of forms relating to the November general election,” he wrote. “You should also consider this general consensus in your decision on granting an extension.”

At least one Democrat – Nicholas Betts, who is running to represent Virginia’s 6th Congressional District — will now be on the ballot despite filing errors, but that comes after Democratic leaders in the 7th District asked the board to deny extensions.

“We recognize that the pandemic scrambled some dates but none of the governor’s executive orders, all easily accessible on the internet, changed any of the filing deadlines,” wrote Abbi Easter, chair of the 7th District Democratic Committee. “We ask you to adhere to your rules and regulations, to uphold the process and to ensure it is fair for those who made certain to meet the deadlines.”

Freitas’ campaign applauded the board’s decision.

“We’re glad that the Board of Elections followed precedent and granted all candidates from all parties the 10-day extension,” spokesman Joe Desilets said in a statement. “On July 18th the Republican delegates in the 7th District will choose their nominee to go against Congresswoman Spanberger and we’re confident that Nick will be that candidate.”

Tuesday’s meeting also certified primary races around the commonwealth, building the ballots for the Nov. 3 election.  

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