Brown: 7th District Dysfunction
By Jennifer Brown
Just when you thought 2020 could not get weirder, somehow the 7th Congressional District said, “Hold my beer.”
In a fit of pique, and a challenge with actual votes cast for State Central Committee (SCC) members, the 7th District Committee met last week to recount ballots because of accusations of ballot irregularities. The outcome: an overcount of over 40 ballots were cast in the biennial convention which also included a federal election nomination process for the 7th Congressional Republican nominee to challenge Representative Abigail Spanberger.
To add to the drama, Chairman Ben Slone and others were put on notice to maintain the integrity of the ballots, poll books, and credentials committee information and to deliver said materials to the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) headquarters by end of business on Friday, September 4, for a potential legal action.
To date, these materials are missing in action.
How are there over 40 votes cast in a Republican Party convention when every delegate is supposedly credentialed and every ballot allegedly accounted for prior to the election process without some malfeasance or manipulation taking place? Who was in charge of the balloting process? Where are the missing boxes?
Too many questions and not enough answers, especially when there are several candidates left holding the bag in an already dysfunctional process due to COVID-19. Who was the real winner in the SCC race? The timeline of events is as follows.
On the day of the 7th Congressional District Republican Convention there was a challenge to the vote for the State Central Committee elections. The challenge was presented due to the fact paid delegates received the incorrect ballots and the Credentials Committee acted beyond their authority in regard to challenges of delegates. The 7th CDRC accepted the challenge and voted to seal the poll books along with the Credential Committee records and the first-round ballots for an investigation to be held prior to August 17, the deadline for candidates to file an appeal with the 7th CDRC.
After multiple attempts to schedule the review failed, a formal Challenge and Appeal was filed. After the appeal was filed, Chairman Slone scheduled the review for Saturday, August 28, 2020. However, the appellant was not informed that a Call was issued instead for a meeting on August 29 to hear the appeal and the review was cancelled. As soon as the meeting was called to order, a motion was made to deny the appeal. After two hours of debate – and multiple reminders from several members of the committee that ignoring the original vote to hold the review violated parliamentary procedures – Chairman Slone adjourned the meeting until the next evening.
When the meeting was called to order on August 30, the motion to deny the appeal was successfully withdrawn and a motion to conduct a limited review to be held on September 3 was presented and accepted.
As scheduled, the review took place in an orderly and succinct fashion. However, the poll book records for paid delegates who officially checked in at the convention showed a total of 662 people voting, yet the ballot count was 705. Where did the additional 43 ballots come from?
Chairman Ben Slone and the 7th CDRC were ultimately responsible for conducting an investigation to find the answer to this question and identify who actually voted at the convention. Unfortunately, the Chairman and the majority of members of the committee voted to deny the Appeal with the rationale that no “undercount” of ballots was found. This motion passed 9-6, with three abstentions, despite the glaring irregularities posed by the 43 mystery ballots.
Upon adjournment, Chairman Slone advised the committee to consent to reseal the boxes of election materials and to transfer the possession of the boxes to the RPV. The committee agreed and consented to have the documents delivered to the RPV headquarters in Richmond by the end of the business day on September 4.
The ballots and other materials failed to be delivered to RPV on Friday, September 4, even after receiving an email from an attorney that advised the 7th CDRC of the seriousness of the situation. The committee was provided with a formal request to preserve multiple pieces of evidence and communications related to the SCC election and convention. The email specifically stated:
“We are all aware of the situation that emerged as a result, but I am not sure everyone quite understands the gravity of the situation. If any one of our Unit Chairman were to show up to the Unit Canvas on November 6 after the general election and the number in the poll books didn’t match the number of votes cast there would be: an investigation, resignations of the Registrar and staff, and somebody would probably be going to jail.”
There have been several attempts to contact Chairman Slone since Friday afternoon. Since Friday afternoon, there still has been no effort by Chairman Slone to arrange for delivery of the documents to the RPV. The enormous irregularities found with the SCC ballots coupled with the failure to communicate leaves many wondering about the depth of this issue. The fact that the 7th CDRC Convention also included a federal nomination process increases the severity of the situation.
The Republican Party of Virginia used to stand for integrity and transparency. Sadly, it appears that there are several on the 7th District Republican Committee who have violated these principles. Those who try to use the Republican Creed as a weapon to gain control over the Party need to be held accountable for their actions as they have clearly violated the values of truth and justice, and the foundational principles of our Creed. These members of our Party must be held accountable for failing to carry out the responsibilities of their office.
It is their duty to turn over the materials from the SCC election to the Republican Party of Virginia in order for Party officials to conduct a full and competent review that will bring truth and transparency to this matter.
A FINAL UPDATE to the missing ballots and poll book saga….
The ballots were finally delivered to the RPV Headquarters in Richmond on Friday, September 11. The poll book was delivered the next day on September 12. Sources close to the matter have reported the bag containing the poll book, records of credential challenges, and other items from the 7th District Convention looked like it had been opened and the evidence inside compromised.
There are many things about this whole unnecessarily convoluted process that are yet to be determined. I will leave those for the appropriate party and legal authorities to determine.
There is one thing you can take from this process and it is the lack of leadership and organization from the Chairman and those in charge of the ballots. This level of sloppy work can only be described as incredibly incompetent at best, or malfeasance at worst. The 7th District deserves better and the Congressional nominee deserves better, too.
If there are higher aspirations being considered, perhaps cleaning up your own house is in order before running for First Vice Chairman of the Party.
Jennifer M. Brown is Chairwoman Emeritus of the 6th Congressional District. An attorney who resides in Rockingham County, she also has a MBA in Marketing and Public Relations.