Ed. — This originally appeared in the Sunday, July 19, print edition.
THE INDEPENDENT NEWS
VIRGINIA BEACH — Hot mess ahead.
The Republican Party of Virginia Beach on Monday, July 13, held a vote during its mass meeting to name a successor to outgoing Chairperson Tina Mapes.
The choice was between Bill Curtis, presently the vice chairperson of the city committee, and Jimmy Frost, who, among other things, has written columns for The Independent News in the past.
It’s been a contentious discussion among local Republicans about where the party should go after some challenging years and, of course, how to prepare for a big election this year. And there have been delays in the process, including an effort to pick a new chair in April. That was scrapped due to the novel coronavirus.
So the July 13 gathering at the Law Enforcement Training Academy was meant to decide the matter during a mass meeting. Hundreds of people showed up to vote.
They didn’t need to be Republicans, per se, but registered voters aligned with party values. That last bit is tough to check, Mapes noted during a conversation with Notebook before the voting started.
“I’m going to enjoy my personal time,” she added before the voting started.
For now, Mapes remains the chair.
Problems arose that ultimately led to the votes being tossed out, which has led to frustration and uncertainty about when, exactly, a new vote can take place.
Online, there are some theories Notebook cannot verify.
But here’s how it went, according to observations of the early going, interviews after the fact and statements released by the party and some local elected officials.
The party purchased a list of registered voters from the state. The list, after being printed out by an unnamed print shop, was used during voting to check those eligible to weigh in. Except the list, at least in its printed form, was incomplete. It became clear that a number of people, including some elected officials and many longtime Virginia Beach voters, simply were not on the list.
That meant people needed to vote provisionally, and votes were cast with information about the voter. According to people who voted that way, at least some votes and voter information were both placed inside the same envelope to be checked later, though that is now a moot point and ballots will be tossed.
Additionally, there were too many provisional votes cast. That meant they ran out of envelopes, at one point.
And, at another point, they ran out of provisional ballots, which meant they had to get more.
That night, Mapes sent out an email statement that read, in part: “Due to overwhelming problems with the voter rolls we received from the State Board of Elections, I am contesting the election. I know this is not the outcome we wanted, and the decision was not made lightly.”
Mapes wrote that she consulted with Curtis and Frost before making the call, and that it was the fair course for the candidates and for people “who left before casting a vote due to the shortage of provisional ballots.”
In an update on Tuesday, July 14, Mapes wrote that the issue was not that the list was incomplete but “the error was the result of a computer program compatibility.”
Essentially, as Mapes explained it, the printer opened the file in a program that read 65,000 rows of data rather than the more than 300,000 rows in the complete file.
“We are very disappointed in the outcome and are committed to conducting a re-contest as soon as we can,” Mapes wrote. “I have also asked for a representative from the state party to participate in the re-contest.”
Curtis, in a statement posted on social media, said both candidates had agreed that the votes would not be counted and that the hundreds of provisional ballots “led to confusion and concerns about the overall process.”
He said he hoped people would come out to vote again when the vote is rescheduled.
“Your time is valuable, and I realize this is an additional burden, but the future of our local party depends upon your participation,” Curtis said in his statement.
During an interview, he said it could be August or early September before a re-vote.
On the evening of the vote, Frost had a voted identification card, but he was not on the list, and he had to cast a provisional ballot.
“How does this happen?” Frost asked Notebook during an interview the following day.
Frost raised concerns about the process, including a party official leaving with blank ballots to make copies.
He said he ultimately agreed for the vote to be tossed.
“We’re going to have to have another mass meeting,” Frost said.
“Remember all the mess they had in Iowa?” Frost added, referring to a February caucus for Democrats that involved a flawed reporting app used by the state party there in a primary.
“We certainly told them, ‘Hey, hold my beer.’”
Jennifer Franklin will appear on the ballot to challenge longtime School Board Member Dan Edwards in the race to represent the Kempsville District this year.
Franklin had not filed a piece of campaign paperwork in time to appear on the ballot, but the state Board of Elections on Tuesday, July 7, accepted a request to extend the deadline for a statement of economic interest form that candidates must file.
It was among a number of requests granted by the board for candidates around the state, in part, due to the novel coronavirus and its effects upon local elections.
“I’m relieved, obviously, that I’ll be able to be on the ballot and be able to continue my campaign as planned,” Franklin said on Friday, July 10, during a telephone interview.
“My main priority is really just to support teachers and students, to let them know they are supported by the School Board and the administration,” she told Notebook, adding that she wants to ensure teachers and students have the resources they need.
Earlier, she had said she planned to run a write-in campaign if she didn’t make the ballot, but that’s a moot point now.
“It was fully expected,” Edwards said, also reached by telephone. “I understood the protocol is they generally accept a good excuse, and I guess she had one. I had anticipated opposition, and I still have it.”
Edwards, a longtime member of the board who served for years as its chairperson, said his priorities are getting the schools back to normal and following the goals of the new strategic plans for the system.
“Like any schools system, we’ve got issues and challenges we’re dealing with, and I think we’re dealing with them effectively,” he said.
Lucia Owen, a candidate for an at-large seat on the Virginia Beach City Council, tells Notebook she is withdrawing from the race due to family priorities.
Owen said she was recently involved in a serious car accident, and she is pregnant and concerned about campaigning during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve just chosen to step back and let my pregnancy continue and maybe try again next year,” she said on Wednesday, July 15. “It’s a lot to be going through on top of going through the election in this age.”
Owen was among three people challenging City Councilmember Rosemary Wilson for the at-large seat. The remaining challengers are Brandon Hutchins and Nadine M. Paniccia.
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