Frequent readers know I’m not exactly a member of the Incumbent Protection Act fan club. But, it is the law. According to one substitute judge sitting in Prince William, though, it is a law that won’t be enforced.[read_more]
As Jeanine Martin reports here, Arlington Circuit Court Judge Paul Sheridan declined to force a primary for those Republican incumbents who had were entitled under the Virginia Code to a primary for their re-nomination contest.
For those unfamiliar with the back story, Va. Code Section 24.2-509 allows local elected officials who previously won their party’s nomination by a primary to designate a primary as the method of their re-nomination contest. Several Republican incumbents in Prince William County chose to do so. Another provision of the Code requires that the designations under 24.2-509 be filed with the State Board of Elections by the local party chairman on or before a certain date. Unfortunately, my friend and Prince William County GOP Chairman Bill Card inadvertently missed that deadline, and filed the designations approximately 36 hours late.
The Democrat-controlled Electoral Board in Prince William declined to exercise the discretion that the Attorney General and the State Board of Elections advised they would be within their rights to exercise, and chose to not correct for the administrative error, apparently delighting in foisting controversy on their local Republican adversaries. The affected GOP candidates, led by Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, filed an action in circuit court to seek an order that they be placed on the primary ballot in accordance with 24.2-509. Today, the judge (sitting in place of the local judges who recused themselves) refused this action.
That was a mistake.
Virginia law requires the local party chairman to make the filing regarding nomination methods on time. This is not an act of discretion, but a purely ministerial responsibility which the party chairman has no lawful ability to escape. It is not as if the law leaves it up to the party chairman to decide whether officials in his party will get a primary; quite the opposite is true. The judge should have acted to correct what all parties involved concede was an administrative failure, not a political act or some manifestation of legal protest.
Instead, by ruling against the incumbents seeking to exercise their lawful rights (however dubious those rights are from a constitutional perspective), this judge has essentially just validated the irresponsible actions of the Prince William electoral board, and by extension he has told every party chairman across the Commonwealth that they have the ability to force a canvass or convention on all of their local office incumbents by simply refusing to obey the law.
(Interestingly, members of the General Assembly don’t face this threat, as the law allows them to directly designate to the State Board their re-nomination preference, skipping the middle man altogether).
This decision does not inspire public confidence in the fair administration of elections. Instead, it directly undermines that confidence, and contributes to a mistrust of the process by party officials, elected officials, and the general public. While many of us do not support the idea that incumbents should have special privileges to determine how their political party re-nominates them, many more of us believe even more strongly in the rule of law.
I hope that Chairman Stewart and the other affected incumbents will appeal this decision immediately.