Ed. — From the Sunday, July 4, print edition.
VIRGINIA BEACH — An independent candidate who says he got incorrect information about filing campaign paperwork from Chesapeake’s registrar won’t make the ballot to take on state Del. Barry Knight, a Republican from Back Bay.
Jeff Staples, a mechanic from Chesapeake, hoped to challenge Knight, a longtime member of the state legislature.
Knight, the incumbent, still faces competition this year from Democrat Jeffrey Feld, a podiatrist from Red Mill who previously ran for the Virginia Beach School Board.
The 81st District includes much of this newspaper’s main coverage area, including communities in southern Virginia Beach. Staples unsuccessfully challenged Knight in the district during the 2015 election.
This year, Staples mistakenly filed paperwork that should have gone to state elections officials with the office of Mary Lynn Pinkerman, the registrar in Chesapeake. However, Staples did this after Pinkerman advised him to do so, according to Staples’ appeal to state elections officials and email correspondence.
The Virginia Elections Board on Wednesday, June 30, had been scheduled to consider an appeal by Staples for a filing extension that would have let him stay on the ballot. Earlier in June, the board indicated it wanted more information about why Staples filed in Chesapeake rather than with the Virginia Department of Elections.
But during a meeting held by distance technology on Wednesday, June 30, the board did not even vote on whether to grant an extension to any independent candidate seeking a filing extension, such as Staples. Board Chairperson Robert Brink asked for a motion to consider the extension, but nobody on the three-member board made one.
That means Staples is off the ballot.
Staples was unable to watch the meeting, and a reporter reached him by phone and broke the news.
“Oh, my goodness gracious,” he said, and, after a moment, he called the board’s inaction a “set up.”
“It seems self-serving infallible bureaucrats have succeeded in protecting corporate candidates from a candidate seeking to institute much-needed reform,” Staples said.
Asked whether he might sue to get on the ballot, he said, “I really don’t know if I’m going to explore any more options or not.”
The matter involving Staples is different from the recent decision to allow two Democrats to run for constitutional offices in Virginia Beach after the party’s city chairperson filed late to certify their candidacies.
That’s because that wasn’t the fault of the candidates, who filed their own paperwork properly, and the state code says as much for party candidates nominated through a process other than a primary.
“Candidates don’t have any control over what happens in those situations,” David Nichols, the state elections administration manager, said during the meeting.
Staples, as an independent candidate, was responsible for filing his own paperwork. He thought he had done so properly.
The Independent News first reported the issue on Friday, June 11, and Staples said at the time he only had learned he had not made the ballot from the newspaper.
Instructions for candidates say General Assembly candidates who are not incumbents must file certain paperwork with the state elections department, not a local registrar. On Tuesday, June 1, the state released a notice reminding independent candidates to file paperwork with the state by Tuesday, June 8.
Staples on Tuesday, June 15, appealed for an extension of the filing deadline to make this year’s ballot.
In the appeal, he recounted a discussion with Pinkerman: “I have run for office three times before and I thought I knew the procedure, so I said, ‘I thought that went to Richmond.’ She replied that I should turn it in to her office.”
An email conversation followed. The emails were included in the appeal.
“I have the statement of economic interest filled out and ready to deliver to you,” Staples wrote to Pinkerman on Wednesday, June 2. “Do I also need to send a copy to Richmond?”
“No,” Pinkerman replied via email that same day, “it just comes here.”
Audio was not ideal for the Tuesday, June 22, board meeting in Richmond, which The Independent News viewed using distance technology, but Brink then appeared to ask specifically about an incident in which a local registrar gave the green light to a candidate to file the way they did.
“The board chose to delay consideration of candidate extensions until a future meeting so they could gather some information about what happened in Chesapeake,” Andrea Gaines, a spokesperson for the state elections department, wrote in a Tuesday, June 22, email to The Independent News.
On Wednesday, June 30, Staples said he wasn’t sure why the board did not consider the information Pinkerman provided him with. “She’s an election official,” Staples said. “I just don’t get their decision – or lack of a decision – at all.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, June 30, Pinkerman said the board had not reached out to her about Staples, and she referred a reporter to the state about the outcome.
Feld on Wednesday, June 30, said he hoped he would have an opportunity to work on some of the environmental issues he had in common with Staples after winning office.
“My position is I encourage more people to get involved in the election process,” Feld said. “I hope he continues to strive to represent people in public office in the future. I wish him luck.”
Earlier, Knight said he hoped Staples would get a chance to appear on the ballot given the circumstances, and he reiterated that thought on Wednesday, June 30.
Knight said Staples brought different views and ideas to the race, which makes others answer questions and consider his thoughts as part of a dialogue.
“I’m kind of sorry he’s not in because he’s got a right to run,” Knight said. “And, if I was in shoes, I’d be upset, also.”
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