Virginia's State Board of Elections on Tuesday rejected Republicans' attempt to get a candidate for delegate on the ballot in the 30th District, where GOP officials failed to file paperwork by state-imposed deadlines.
The decision leaves Republicans without a nominee in the right-leaning district, which is currently represented by two-time incumbent Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper). After multiple paperwork flubs, Freitas withdrew his candidacy last month, but he was immediately re-nominated for the seat by a local Republican committee.
Unless Republicans successfully challenge the decision in court, the paperwork issue could leave Republicans with no nominee on the ballot in the district, potentially forcing Freitas and his supporters to mount a resource-intensive write-in campaign. The Democratic nominee is Ann Ridgeway, a former juvenile probation officer and educator who lives in Madison County.
The Department of Elections had told Republicans they missed the filing deadline because, as far as the department was concerned, there was never an official Republican nominee in the 30th House of Delegates District. At Tuesday's meeting, former state Del. John O'Bannon, the lone Republican on the three-person elections board, attempted to give his party another chance.
O'Bannon made a motion to accept Freitas' nomination and have his name placed on the ballot. That motion failed after neither of the two Democrats on the board offered a second. Alternatively, O'Bannon motioned to direct state officials to allow the Republican Party of Virginia to nominate someone other than Freitas. That motion also failed for lack of support from other members.
"We're trying to strike a balance between the important principle of access to the ballot on the one hand, and on the other hand the need to uphold deadlines that are in the code," said former Democratic Del. Bob Brink, the elections board chair. "And to promote uniformity and finality."
In a social media video posted last week, Freitas suggested elections officials were trying use a "technicality" to keep him off the ballot because "two appointees by Gov. Ralph Northam can arbitrarily grant extensions to other candidates and then deny them to me."
Northam appointed O'Bannon as well as the two Democratic representatives on the elections board. State law specifies that the party that holds the governor's mansion gets a 2-1 advantage on the elections board, which is supposed to be nonpartisan.
The elections board allowed two other candidates—Del. Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) and Democrat Clint Jenkins—to be placed on the ballot despite similar late paperwork issues involving a nomination form sent to the state by local party officials. In addition to missing the party nomination form, Freitas did not file a separate form certifying he was eligible for the office until weeks after the June 11 deadline.
O'Bannon said the paperwork issue was not a "shining moment" for Freitas, and he rebuked what he called "ad hominem attacks on members of this board." Nevertheless, O'Bannon said, parties have the right to nominate candidates of their choice.
"This has been a difficult year for everyone," O'Bannon said.
Brink said the "ultimate responsibility" for filing documents rests with the people who are supposed to file them. In more than 40 House and Senate districts, he said, candidates are running unopposed.
"I think that it would be a mistake to effectively open up all of those for a later filing," Brink said.
Republicans could file a lawsuit challenging the board's refusal to accept their nomination paperwork. Freitas and his allies were relying on a provision in state code that allows parties to replace a nominee who withdraws or dies, but it's not clear if the statute would apply in this instance.