RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Three Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates who were expecting to face a primary challenger in June appear to have secured their party’s nomination for the Nov. 2 elections after the candidates hoping to unseat them did not file the required paperwork in time.
In total, eight people running for the Virginia House this year did not submit key documents to qualify for the ballot. Three hopefuls, Michael Jones, Matt Rogers and Cydny Neville, are facing incumbents and need to figure out the paperwork issues in order to qualify this year.
During a Virginia Board of Elections’ meeting this week, the three-person panel heard from candidates requesting an extension.
The head of the Virginia Department of Elections conceded the filing process is “convoluted” but praised his staff’s efforts to help candidates qualify and said they even “over communicated” to make sure paperwork would be filed on time.
“At the end of the day, people didn’t get them in, I don’t think it was a lack of information sharing or knowledge sharing on our part,” Christopher Piper, the commissioner of the department, told the panel. “I think they just didn’t get it in on time.”
A call for a motion to grant an extension was met with silence from the board members before they moved on to the next topic.
The Democratic candidates who aimed to run against Virginia House incumbents are questioning the panel’s process on granting a deadline extension after several have been authorized in recent years. In 2019 and 2020, candidates from both parties have filed campaign documents late and have been granted an extension to submit them by the Virginia Board of Elections.
Jones, a pastor and the 9th District Richmond City Councilman seeking to unseat Del. Betsy Carr (D-Richmond), is one of the three Democrats who was told they didn’t submit the proper paperwork. Jones admitted he made a mistake by not filing two documents with the state’s Department of Elections.
The Richmond councilman explained Friday that he was told he could file certain documents with Richmond’s General Registrar and that they would submit the paperwork to the Department of Elections. While he owned up to the error, Jones noted past candidates have made similar mistakes and have still be allowed to be on the ballot.
“They can grant the extension. If this grace period wasn’t there, then I would have to take the L and go on about my life,” Jones said in an interview Friday. “I would, and I would own that. I preach that. I tell that to my kids, ‘Hey, you own your mistakes,’ but there is a provision that has not been adjudicated with equity. Everyone wants equity until it’s time to be equitable.”
State code allows for a 10-day grace period in these cases but gives the Board of Elections the discretion on whether to grant one. An extension from the panel applies to all candidates who failed to make the ballot, not just one.
After years of dealing with late paperwork and authorizing extensions, Robert Brink, the chair of Virginia’s Board of Elections and former Democratic state delegate who represented Arlington County, sent a letter to party leaders ahead of this year’s deadline to state that there would be “no assurance” that an extension would be allowed.
Jones noted his blunder and Brink’s letter but stressed that errors occur during the complex process and pointed to the fact that he and two other Black candidates challenging House incumbents were not granted an extension.
“They are choosing, because you know, you can go and look at the names, you can go and look at the parties, you can go on and look at where they’re from and draw your own conclusion, because I don’t want to say that anyone is saying this is about race, but it is interesting that three African American candidates that are running against long-term incumbents are not going to be allowed,” Jones said Friday.
Matt Rogers, a former aide in the Virginia Senate aiming to challenge Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), sent a request for an extension and spoke during the Board of Elections meeting. Rogers referenced the extension granted to Hope in 2019 in a letter to Piper.
“It is now plainly apparent that there are different standards for different people,” Rogers wrote. “These facts are not in dispute.” In the meeting, Rogers said a clerical issue led to his issues and urged the board not to take a stricter approach during the year impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Cydny Neville, an educator running against Del. Luke Torian (D-Prince William), was one of the candidates listed as not getting in their documents by the March 25 deadline. On Facebook, Neville wrote, “Challenging the establishment and status quo is never easy. Our team is aware of the information and misinformation regarding our campaign. We are working with the Virginia Board of Elections to clarify what is being reported.”
On Friday, the Virginia NAACP issued a statement calling upon the elections board to extend campaign filing deadlines “in the same manner it has consistently done in the past” and provide demographic data on the candidates who have been granted extensions and those who haven’t in the last five years.
“The Virginia NAACP is growing concerned with the appearance of disparate treatment of candidates of color by the State Board of Elections with regards to the extension of deadlines,” the organization’s statement read. “The fact that the recently disqualified candidates were of color who sought to challenge incumbent legislators adds to our concerns.”
While no extension was granted, Jones says he’s still hopeful and working to see if one would be allowed. Andrea Gaines, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Elections, told 8News that the board could reconsider but “we have no indication that they will do so at this time.”