It’s 2017 and Campaigns Still Don’t Understand Virginia Ballot Placement?

Donald Trump ran for President in 2016. In 2015, his campaign worked to collect petition signatures, and filed those signatures with the Virginia State Board of Elections.

You’d have to imagine that Corey Stewart, candidate for Governor, would have to know ballot placement rules for Virginia. After all, just before Donald Trump filed his signatures for president, Corey Stewart was announced as the Virginia Chairman for Donald Trump’s campaign.

So Corey Stewart knows the rules for ballot placement … in theory.

Apparently not.

Stewart’s campaign is trying to turn their incompetence into an attack on Ed Gillespie’s campaign. Having learned nothing from the Trump campaign in 2016, and apparently having no member of their team reading Virginia code, apparently, somehow it’s all Ed Gillespie’s fault.

Ed Gillespie and his elitist team of lawyers are manipulating the Virginia Board of Elections in a last-ditch, rule-breaking effort to have Ed’s name placed at the top of the ballot

Gillespie’s gambit is an attempt at an end-run around rules established by Virginia’s State Board of Elections(SBE) that stipulate that the first candidate to turn in their candidate’s petitions to be put on the ballot will have his or her name placed at the top of the ballot for that candidate’s particular race.

DRAIN THE SWAMP! OUTRAGE! SHOCK! AWE!

… just a fewwwww problems here.

1) The ‘elitist team of lawyers’ work for the Republican Party of Virginia, not Ed Gillespie. And that lawyer is recognized as an expert on Virginia’s election laws. Corey’s campaign is 100 percent wrong.

2) The rules established by the Virginia State Board of Elections are NOT ‘the first candidate to turn in their candidate’s petitions … will have his or her name placed at the top of the ballot’ … shockingly, Corey’s campaign (again) is 100 percent wrong. (More on this, including a statement from SBE, below.)

How about some back story?

Bryce Reeve’s campaign (who, it should be noted, is also protesting the ballot placement specifics) emailed the State Board of Elections, asking for clarification on ballot placement rules, conveniently found in the Virginia code.

The primary ballots for the several parties taking part in a primary shall be composed, arranged, printed, delivered, and provided in the same manner as the general election ballots except that at the top of each official primary ballot shall be printed in plain black type the name of the political party and the words “Primary Election.” The names of the candidates for various offices shall appear on the ballot in an order determined by the priority of the time of filing for the office. In the event two or more candidates file simultaneously, the order of filing shall then be determined by lot by the electoral board or the State Board as in the case of a tie vote for the office. No write-in shall be permitted on ballots in primary elections. [emphasis added]

Fairly clear. By fairly, of course, we mean, crystal.

Except one of the new lawyers for State Board of Elections, i.e., working for Governor McAuliffe, gave an opinion that was not quite as crystal clear.

The error here, of course, is the term, ‘save a spot.’ Contrast that quote, which is open to interpretation, to the actual Virginia code, and, you know, historic precedence.

If one campaign is there by themselves, they file first, and they’re first on the ballot. If multiple campaigns are there in the office simultaneously, as in 2016, 2013, 2012, 2009, 2008 (and so on and so on and so on and so on and so on), then a lottery for ballot placement is deemed needed, to be held at a meeting in the near future.

Just like, you know, in 2016 with Donald Trump.

Yet somehow, based on this one McAuliffe administration lawyer’s opinion, two campaigns got the idea in their heads that they’d camp out in front of the State Board of Elections! Overnight! That would solve this whole simultaneous problem, because if they’re there at 8 PM on a Sunday night, that’s the game-changer.

Given the uncertainty, and contrast to historic precedent and actual Virginia law, RPV understandably requested a clarification from their own election lawyers. Chris Marston, specifically, recognized as a ‘well-known expert on Virginia election laws.’

The Republican Party of Virginia’s expert weighs in, clarifies the law, while pointing to the historic precedent. An opinion, you’d have to imagine, the Republican candidates for Governor would/should listen to. Since RPV has been there before, including taking their lumps in front of SBE regarding that very primary process a year ago.

Apparently, no one in the Stewart camp called the members of the Virginia Trump campaign who’ve endorsed them, or the (former) Virginia Trump campaign Chairman. Who knows exactly how the process works.

Ballots are accepted beginning at noon, with a receipt confirming the receipt. The doors open, all the campaigns rush into SBE. From 12:00:01 PM to 12:00:59 PM, all the campaigns filed their paperwork.

Which means they were in the room simultaneous. Just like in years past. Just like with Donald Trump.

Yet somehow Corey Stewart’s campaign is desperately trying to make political hay over this … despite being 100 percent wrong.

And on top of the political theater, the State Board of Elections put an end to any further discussion.

The campaigns undertook their late-winter camp-outs on advice from a state elections policy analyst, who had assured them that the first in line would be rewarded with prime ballot placement. State Elections Commissioner Ed Cortés acknowledged Monday afternoon that the analyst had gotten it wrong.

“I apologize to the Reeves campaign and the other folks that were there this morning,” Cortés said. “They were out there based on something our staff told them.” [emphasis added]

“Other folks” meaning the Stewart campaign. Who forgot to ask their candidate how the process is supposed to work.

And leave it to the Gillespie campaign to drop the mic, and any question to this issue, definitively once and for all.

“The law is clear,” said Gillespie spokesman Matt Moran. “Chairman Stewart never should have taken bad advice from one of Terry McAuliffe’s lawyers, but now I guess we know why the Trump campaign fired him for incompetence.”

And if you hesitate in believing the veracity of this post, you should take Corey Stewart’s word for it.

Update #1: As this post was about to be published, the following statement was issued by the Republican Party of Virginia and the Stewart for Governor campaign:

“We understand the candidates and campaigns were, justifiably, upset that the SBE’s initial guidance regarding ballot placement was not consistent throughout the process. Due to the error, one Republican campaign staffer waited over 68 hours outside the SBE over the weekend. Such incompetence by a government employee is unacceptable and we urge the SBE to investigate how such a basic failing could have occurred in our Commonwealth’s critical ballot access process.

“While RPV and the Stewart campaign may differ over the interpretation of state code, we both agree that the State Board’s process needs dramatic improvements, that it should be thoroughly investigated, and that RPV’s portion of the ballot access process has been fair and transparent for all candidates.”

Update #2: A party source reached out to clarify, presidential races are automatically drawn by lottery, whereas statewide offices are not. That said, when offices are filed at the same time (i.e., showing up simultaneously at noon, like today), then in that case it goes to a lottery.