Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, may have lost his last chance to get on the ballot for re-election.
But he said Thursday that he’s prepared to run a write-in campaign for the Virginia House District 30 seat if the State Board of Elections won’t forgive tardy paperwork filings, one by himself and one by a local Republican official — unforced errors that could hand a Republican seat to the Democrats.
“I don’t have any doubt that we will win a write-in campaign if that’s what we have to do,” Freitas said.
After a decision by the Virginia Department of Elections late last week, Freitas is almost out of options short of requesting a court get involved. Should he not make the ballot and be forced to run a write-in campaign, Democrats said they have chances of winning the seat in the fall, when they’re making a push to overturn the narrow GOP majority in the House.
“On the whole, this is a completely unnecessary hiccup for Republicans in what is already a tough year,” Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, said in a Twitter message to the Richmond Times-Dispatch for this story. “Party leaders can’t be happy with Freitas and the local GOP committee.”
In the latest defeat for Freitas, the Department of Elections denied a request by a local Republican committee that he be placed on the ballot for re-election, following a strategic move that Freitas made to withdraw as a candidate and then be renominated.
To recap: The Department of Elections didn’t receive certification paperwork for Freitas from local Republican officials before a filing deadline. Bruce Kay, the chairman of the House District 30 legislative district committee, said last month that he sent Freitas paperwork by email but later learned the person he emailed it to no longer worked at the department. And Freitas filed a notarized form swearing he was eligible for office on July 1, well after a June 11 filing deadline.
Before the three-member State Board of Elections could make any decision, Freitas — worried the board would not rule in his favor — opted to withdraw as a candidate.
A provision in state law allows parties to replace a nominee who withdraws or dies. The law also says no candidate “disqualified” for failure to file paperwork can be renominated.
On July 23, the local Republican committee voted to renominate him, and Kay sent the paperwork to the Department of Elections asking for Freitas to go on the ballot; a state official responded in writing that it was too late. All deadlines had passed.
John Findlay, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, referred a question to a GOP lawyer, Christopher Marston, who said party Chairman Jack Wilson will explore all available legal options.
The Board of Elections meets Tuesday, but the Freitas ballot kerfuffle is not currently on the agenda.
“We’re certainly going to communicate with them before Tuesday’s meeting,” Marston said. “Whether they decide to put this on the agenda, I don’t know.”
The board members, two Democrats and one Republican, have given no indication of sympathy toward Freitas.
Marston said a lawsuit is possible.
In court, Freitas could have good fortune, Sabato said. “Lots of Republican judges in Virginia.”
Freitas said in an interview Thursday that he would like to see the state board resolve the issue by, at the very least, allowing the GOP to place a candidate on the ballot even if it’s not him.
The local Republican legislative district committee declared him to be the nominee following a party-run process. And although the state didn’t receive two sets of paperwork by the deadlines, the State Board of Elections in the past has granted extensions for campaigns that didn’t file one of those forms on time, Freitas said.
The board granted leniency this year to two candidates whose paperwork was late. Freitas said the state appears to be treating him differently because there were two forms missing, but that shouldn’t matter, he said — under the spirit of the law, the local Republican Party chose him as the nominee and wants him on the ballot.
Sabato said that should Freitas end up running a write-in campaign, he could still have a chance because of the Republican-friendly district.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money and time to convince and educate voters,” Sabato said.
Republican Corey Stewart beat Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, 57% to 41% there, even though Kaine decimated Stewart statewide in 2018.
Freitas, who was elected to the legislature in 2015, narrowly lost the primary for U.S. Senate to Stewart.
The Democrat on the ballot this fall in Freitas’ House district is Ann Ridgeway, a volunteer activist from Madison County, which, along with Orange County and part of Culpeper County, make up the district.
In what is considered a reliably red district, she may have a shot if Freitas is running a write-in campaign.
“You have to be in it to win it, and at the moment Freitas is not in it,” said Trevor Southerland, executive director of the House Democratic Caucus, in a statement. “Whether the House Republican Caucus cedes the district in a crucial election year or they engage in a costly write-in campaign, Democratic nominee Ann Ridgeway is going to be talking to voters about healthcare and education — not explaining why she’s not on the ballot.”