Category Archives: Electoral process

Swallow the Money, Part 3 of 3

by Joe Fitzgerald

VPAP and CFReports let you go from “How about that?” to “Oh, my God!” in 5.2 seconds. They’re attractive to the kind of nerds who used to go through the encyclopedia or the World Almanac. Yes, I did. Why do you ask?

One local PAC became a subject for a dive into CFReports and VPAP when someone asked if it was true they paid for health insurance for one of their principals. The answer is that with Virginia’s campaign finance reporting rules, it’s hard to say.

VPAP and CFReports are explained in Part 1 of this series. A PAC, as explained there, is a political action committee. It raises money from political donors and spends it on political candidates or causes.

That cause for Rural Ground Game, RGG, is electing rural Democrats. The perceived need for the PAC is the myth that the Democratic Party ignores rural areas and therefore doesn’t win rural elections. The actual case is that Democrats don’t win rural elections because rural voters vote overwhelmingly Republican, but the myth is popular among those who run better against their fellow Democrats than against Republicans. Continue reading

Swallow the Money, Part 2 of 3

by Joe Fitzgerald

There’s a donor in CFReports named “no name.” He, she, or it is listed on the report as “Name, No.” This same donor is called “Unknown Entity” in VPAP. Or perhaps “Entity, Unknown.” (VPAP and CFReports are described in Part 1.)

This donor’s address shows up as Matt Cross’s house on his campaign reports. (The address is public record, but it feels like doxing to use it here.) “No Name” gave Cross $170 for his 2021 campaign for the Rockingham County School Board, which he now chairs.

Cross’s reports demonstrate two things about Virginia’s system for campaign finance reporting. One is that it’s as easy to make at least a dozen mistakes as it is to make one. The other is that if a report is riddled with errors, it’s not clear what’s to be done about it.

Cross’s finance reports are good examples of the idea that the kind of campaign a politician runs can show us what kind of public official they will be. Cross’s reports show a candidate who appears to either not know how to fill out the reports or perhaps thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Maybe that’s what we should expect of a candidate who, upon taking leadership of a like-minded board, began banning books without regard for how they were chosen or what the process is for challenging a book. Instead they are banning books regardless of whether they’re in county schools, based not on any identifiable process but on vague parental complaints they have yet to produce.

The law on “No Name” at Cross’s house is that any campaign donor must be identified by name, address, and occupation. If that information is not available, the money is not supposed to be used for campaign purposes, but should be donated to charity. In the past, local candidates have given unidentified money as well as unspent funds to churches or non-profits. (Where the money goes is not regulated. One Harrisonburg City Council candidate, unopposed for re-election, gave $460 to his son for “campaigning.”) There is no report on VPAP of Cross donating any campaign money to charity, so it’s hard to say what he did with No Name’s $170.

As noted above, the donor’s occupation is supposed to be listed on CFReports. But that information does not appear on any of the donors in a particular group of campaign reports, defined further down. Continue reading

Swallow the Money, Part 1 of 3

by Joe Fitzgerald

When a governor was accepting gifts and amenities from a supporter some years back, the surprise for many Virginians came when it was time to indict him. The Feds had to do it, because he probably hadn’t broken any state laws, and eventually, after trials and appeals, he didn’t stand convicted of breaking any federal laws either.

The big surprise, the dirty little secret, the obscure fact about campaign finance is that very little is illegal. This is in part because the people who would have to make things illegal are the same people who might be doing the potentially illegal things. Stated another way, a delegate or senator is not going to find fault with a fundraising system they’re going to need next year. Any action they vote to ban might be one they’ve used themselves. A state senator asked to outlaw a particular type of fundraising might instead think it’s worth trying in the next campaign.

The Virginia system is that a candidate can raise as much money as he or she wants so long as it’s all reported. There’s a 69-page document on the state elections website on what needs to be reported and how. There’s a slightly shorter version for a Political Action Committee, a PAC. I’ve read both. Neither is complicated.

But what is complicated is the process to read the reports. CFReports is the state site where anybody on the web can read about any donation to Virginia races from school board to governor, if they know what to look for. VPAP, the Virginia Public Access Project, presents these reports in a more general and more readable form than CFReports, but neither offers any interpretation of the numbers. Is a donation larger than usual? Smaller? Did a major donor give more this year than last? Continue reading

Richmond Shoots Itself in the Foot–Again

Keith Balmer, Richmond City General Registrar, Photo credit: Richmond Free Press

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

It never ceases to amaze me how the City of Richmond seems unable to accomplish even the most basic functions of government right.

The latest snafu occurred in the office of the General Registrar. A fourth of the voters requesting absentee ballots for the upcoming Democratic presidential primary election received outdated instructions. The instructions, dated 2021, said that absentee voters need to include a witness signature. Legislation enacted by the 2023 General Assembly eliminated that requirement.

That might be excused as a simple oversight involving a recent change in the statutory requirements. Except, this is the second time that it has happened.  Last fall, some Richmond voters got the same wrong instructions with their absentee ballots.

General Registrar Keith Balmer blamed the office’s vendor for the mistakes.

This is simple, basic stuff that should not happen, especially twice within a few months. Continue reading

Most ‘Diverse’ General Assembly in Virginia History Takes Over in January

by Ken Reid

The new post-redistricting Virginia General Assembly that will take control in January, probably with a Democrat majority, will be the most ethnically, racially and religiously diverse group of legislators in Richmond in history, and about ¼ will be female.

In addition, some 52 of the 140 members of the General Assembly will be totally new to the State Capitol – most never having served in any elected office before.

This make-up is largely due to the huge number of retirements from the last GA, which was primarily forced by bipartisan redistricting in 2021, where a number of incumbents were placed in the same district and chose not to run against each other for re-election.  

Whites will be the minority in the  Democrat Caucus in each house, which also could be a first.  The House of Delegates as a whole will be 67% white,  down from 78% after the 2017 “Blue wave” elections,  when Republicans maintained control by a coin toss – and that’s because the overwhelming number of Republicans are white.

In the State Senate, 30 of the 40 senators will be white in 2024, largely due to the Republican presence.

This analysis, based on examining the biographies of the new GA members on Ballotpedia, shows the following breakdown, though one race (the 82nd house race between incumbent Republican Kim Taylor and Democrat challenger Kim Adams) is headed to a recount with Taylor ahead by 78 votes   Continue reading

The Problem with Local Elections

by Joe Fitzgerald

I once told a candidate for Harrisonburg City Council that ten thousand people would show up to vote and more than half would never have heard of him. Referring to the expense and effort of campaigning, he asked, “Why the Hell am I doing this then?”

The answer might be to give the voters a fighting chance. City Council actions affect day-to-day lives more than decisions made in Richmond or D.C., but the elections themselves are, if not hidden, at least subsumed into races that get more attention.

State and federal Democratic campaigns in one three-year period, 2012-14, hired at least eight people full-time and paid 30-plus months of office rental. Even allowing for the relatively low pay (and brutally long hours) for campaign organizers, that’s somewhere north of $200,000 over that period, just on one side of the political aisle. The Republican side would be close to the same. That rough guess of $400K over three years doesn’t include state senate and delegate races at a quarter million a pop for strongly-contested races.

City Council races bring in and spend much less money and are harder to analyze. For instance, one council candidate had the Planning Commission chair design a website for him and claimed it was a $4,000 donation. The astonishing thing about campaign finance in Virginia is how much is actually legal, not just in what is raised but in how it’s reported. Continue reading

A Day in the Election Trenches

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I just finished my first stint as an election official.  I was surprised by some aspects but, upon retrospect, I should not have been surprised.

Voters came in steadily throughout the day, with some backups occurring.  The biggest push was between 5:15 and 6:15, when the line was much longer. But it cleared fairly quickly and voters did not have to wait more than about 15 minutes at the most.

About 1,350 folks voted, which constituted a turnout of 35 percent of the active registered voters in the precinct.

Some of that turnout undoubtedly was the result of the failure of voters to know about, and understand, the changes wrought by redistricting. The precinct’s candidates for the House and Senate in the General Assembly were unopposed Democrats. However, Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R) had represented the area for many years in the General Assembly. Redistricting put her in a new district which did not include this precinct. She was being challenged by Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg (D), who has represented the precinct in the House of Delegates for several years. That contest is one of the key ones in the state and there has been heavy advertising on TV by both candidates. Many voters were puzzled and frustrated when they found that neither Dunnavant nor VanValkenburg was on their ballots. I overheard one man lamenting that he had come to the polls specifically to vote against one of those candidates. Continue reading

Dems Work to Suppress Minority Votes in Senate Race

by Victoria Snitsar Churchill

In the heart of Virginia’s Senate District 31 race, where political fervor has ignited a spirited campaign, allegations of voter suppression tactics are taking center stage. Juan Pablo Segura –  the Republican contender for the seat – has raised concerns about what he describes as attempts by his opponent Russet Perry’s allies to stifle early voting enthusiasm within the Latino community.

The controversy came to light following a series of vibrant early-voting parties organized by Segura’s campaign. These events aimed to engage voters and encourage their participation in the democratic process. Segura, a Latino candidate himself, found himself dismayed as he observed the response from Perry’s camp.

“It’s telling that when a Latino tries to get other Latinos to get out and vote, Russet Perry’s team treats it as a threat,” Segura remarked. “Voter suppression is not a governing philosophy, so to all Senate District 31 voters: please keep coming to our fun early voting parties!”

The alleged suppression attempts have been raising eyebrows across Virginia’s political landscape:

The saga began when the Loudoun County Parks and Rec Department attempted to shut down a Hispanic early-voting party. The event, characterized by the presence of a food truck and a mariachi band, was designed to create a festive atmosphere that would encourage community members to cast their votes for Segura. Continue reading

List of Wrongly Purged Voter Registrations Gets Larger

Susan Beals, Commissioner,
Va. Dept. of Elections

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Remember my earlier report on the Youngkin administration cancelling the registrations of voters eligible to vote? These were felons whose voting rights had been restored who had committed a parole violation, which shows up as a felony in the State Police’s official crime database.

In mid-October, the state Department of Elections reported that there are only about 275 individuals affected. Now, it is up to 3,400.

When VPM, Richmond’s public radio station, first reported the errors, the administration was dismissive of the reports. Later, it minimized the extent of the problem. Now, it is trying to shift the blame. Jeff Goettman, the Governor’s chief of staff, says the administration suspects the errors “are the result of antiquated data systems and insufficient processes maintained over the last 20 plus years.” Anyone who has worked with data knows that, when one grabs a bunch of data that was compiled for one purpose and uses it for an entirely different purpose, one needs to be especially careful and needs to be thoroughly familiar with the dataset that is being relied upon. Anyone except, apparently, the folks at the Department of Elections.

To cover himself, the Governor has ordered the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the “circumstances, data systems, and practices” surrounding this event and, as a counter measure, to prepare a separate report examining whether thousands of residents had been left on the registration rolls despite having been convicted of a new felony.

Making Mischief With Election Law Changes

Rep. Bob Good, Photo credit: Richmond Times Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Here is a recent tweak in election law that did not get a lot of public attention. Effective January 1, 2024, it will be almost impossible for a political party to use a convention to nominate a candidate for a Congressional district seat.  On its face the law still allows a political party of a district to determine how the nomination of candidate is made, but the 2021 change makes this stipulation:

A method of nomination shall not be selected if such method will have the practical effect of excluding participation in the nominating process by qualified voters who are otherwise eligible to participate in the nominating process under that political party’s rules but are unable to attend meetings because they are (i) a member of a uniformed service, as defined in § 24.2-452, on active duty; (ii) temporarily residing outside of the United States; (iii) a student attending a school or institution of higher education; (iv) a person with a disability; or (v) a person who has a communicable disease of public health threat as defined in § 32.1-48.06 or who may have come in contact with a person with such disease. However, such restriction shall not apply when selecting a candidate for a special election or nominating a candidate pursuant to § 24.2-539, or in the event that no candidate files the required paperwork by the deadline prescribed in § 24.2-522. Continue reading

Integrity Should Go Both Ways

Susan Beals, Commissioner,
Va. Dept. of Elections

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Governor Youngkin talks a lot about election integrity.  By that, he obviously means keeping people ineligible to vote from voting.  However, integrity cuts another way, as well.  It means allowing people who are eligible to vote the opportunity to vote.

The governor’s Department of Elections (Elections) seems not to worry too much about that second aspect of election integrity.  Last fall, due to a computer glitch, the agency discovered that it had not processed thousands of new voter registrations completed by the Department of Motor Vehicles and had to scramble to notify local registrars of the eligibility of those folks as early voting was underway.  This year, it is another group of registered voters who have been disenfranchised. Continue reading

When Local Registrars Get Caught in the Middle

by Martin Davis and Shaun Kenney

Last week, Cardinal News published a piece by reporter Markus Schmidt about the difficulties facing several Democratic candidates for state and local offices in Virginia, owing to complications with their paperwork.

Mistakes related to paperwork happen every year, and sometimes the Virginia Department of Elections can sort out the problem. Schmidt’s story notes two instances in recent years when this happened. Notably, in 2019, when the department accepted late paperwork for Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, and in 2021, when it placed Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun County, on the ballot despite a missed deadline.

City and county registrars, however, are the people who are on the front lines of most issues relating to candidates’ paperwork issues. And these people are often caught between conflicting interpretations of critical statutes.

In Spotsylvania County, concern over signatures collected by two candidates for local office provides an interesting look into the challenges local registrars face. It also reveals some issues with the way the state is relaying information to candidates and registrars. Continue reading

The “I” Stands For Idiot

Sen. Amanda Chase

by Shaun Kenney

State Senator Amanda Chase (I-Chesterfield) was soundly rejected by her own district in the June 20th primary, where participants were ostensibly pledged to support the nominee, win or lose.

Of course, Senate Democrats are hanging on by a thread, knowing full well that Senate Republicans are in a prime position to overwhelmingly trounce a leftist opposition party that has only doubled down on failed policies in Richmond and elsewhere.

For years, it had been speculated that Chase was held in thrall to her funders — Clean Virginia being prime among them — who were keen to paint Republicans in the worst possible light.

Those same progressive dark money groups may have found their candidate, per WTVR:

“If you give me a 1 percent chance to contest something I’m going to stand up for the people who voted and supported me,” she said.

Chase said she planned to launch a write-in campaign in the fall so she could still have a shot to hold her Senate seat in November.

Chase also stated she raised $10,000 to help get a legal consult to fight her loss.

“We didn’t want to file a frivolous lawsuit. We didn’t want to file a lawsuit that didn’t have any standing. It took some time to raise the money and took some time to have our attorneys take a look at the best strategy moving forward and we believe is going to the state board of elections,” she said.

Unfortunately for Chase, the Virginia State Board of Elections has already certified the outcome of her June 20th nomination contest. Continue reading

I’m Never Voting On Election Day Again. Join Me!

by Kerry Dougherty

It’s strange to think that I will never again get up on Election Day and head to the polls. I’ll never again take my granddaughter with me to see me fill out my ballot and drop it into the ballot counter. I’ll never again grab two “I Voted” stickers — one for her and one for me.

I’m voting absentee from now on, something I swore I’d never do.

Let me explain. In January’s special election to fill the 7th District State Senate seat left vacant when Republican Jen Kiggans was elected to Congress, Democrat Aaron Rouse won by a razor-thin majority of 696 votes with 50.84 percent of the vote. The district is split between part of Norfolk and part of Virginia Beach. Republican Kevin Adams won the Election Day contest and even the early voting.

But what clinched the election for Rouse were absentee ballots in Virginia Beach, traditionally a Republican stronghold. Of the 5,884 absentee ballots returned, 4,283 were for Rouse.

Here, look at the results: Continue reading

Old Law Coming Back to Bite Virginia?

Voting booths in Portsmouth. Photo credit: Virginian-Pilot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

On behalf of three Virginia residents, the Virginia ACLU, along with a large D.C. law firm, has filed suit in federal court challenging the provision of Virginia’s constitution that disenfranchises anyone convicted of a felony, providing that their voting rights can be restored only by the governor.

Such a legal challenge is not necessarily new, but the basis for this one is novel and fascinating The plaintiffs claim that the provision of the Virginia constitution is illegal because it violates the provisions of the federal law that allowed for the Commonwealth’s readmission to the Union after the Civil War.  That law included this provision, similar to that included for laws applicable to other member states of the Confederacy:

That the State of Virginia is admitted to representation in Congress as one of the States of the Union upon the following fundamental conditions: First, that the Constitution of Virginia shall never be so amended or changed as to deprive any citizen or class of citizens of the United States of the right to vote who are entitled to vote by the Constitution herein recognized, except as a punishment for such crimes as are now felonies at common law, whereof they shall have been duly convicted under laws equally applicable to all the inhabitants of said State.  [Emphasis added.] Continue reading