MANASSAS, Va. — A judge on Friday turned aside a lawsuit from Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart and other county Republicans who say a clerical error is denying them their right to run for re-election through a state-run primary.
State and local election officials have so far refused to schedule a Republican primary for local offices in Prince William County this June because a local party official was one day late turning in paperwork to the State Board of Elections.
At a hearing Friday in Manassas, lawyers for Stewart and the other candidates cited a provision in state law that guarantees certain candidates the right to a primary election in cases where they were previously nominated via primary.
But Judge Paul Sheridan ruled he had no authority to order the election board to hold a primary.
Sheridan made clear that he was unwilling to inject the judiciary into the political process of how a party chooses its nominees. His ruling was a narrow one — while he said he could not order the local election board to hold a primary, he left open the possibility that it could do so if it chooses.
The three-member board of elections in Prince William County has two Democratic appointees and one Republican. The Democrats who control the board say they lack authority to call an election and that only the State Board of Elections can do so; the lone Republican on the board wants to hold a primary. The State Board of Elections, also controlled by Democrats, has also said that it would fall on the local board to hold an election, if it chooses.
Stewart, a politician with statewide ambitions who lost a 2013 bid for lieutenant governor when a party convention chose conservative pastor E.W. Jackson, blamed the Democrats who now control the local election boards for disenfranchising voters and using a clerical error as an excuse to reject the most inclusive option of selecting party nominees.
“I have lost faith in our local electoral board,” Stewart said. He described their refusal to hold a primary amounts to an attempt by the local Democratic Party to exclude county voters from the democratic process and meddle in Republican affairs.
Stewart said he is confident that he and the other candidates, including Sheriff Glendell Hill, can win nomination and election even if some other nomination process like a convention or a party-run “firehouse primary,” must be used in lieu of a state-run primary election. But such a process would likely include fewer participants and could be dominated by only the most committed party activists.
William Tunner, a lawyer representing the Democrats on the county board of elections, said the whole mess could have been avoided if the party chairman had filed his paperwork properly. And he cited a provision in state law that would have allowed Stewart or any of the other candidates to have informed the state board of elections directly of their desire to have a primary without relying on the party to provide notification.
Since they failed to provide timely notice, Tunner argued, they lost their right to a primary.
After Friday’s hearing, Tunner said he still believes the county boards cannot call an election even if they want to, even though Sheridan’s decision left that possibility open.
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