RICHMOND — State elections officials have denied a belated request to put Del. Nick Freitas on the November ballot, a decision that could force the Culpeper Republican to run as a write-in candidate in a year when the GOP cannot afford to lose any seats.
Freitas blasted the decision by the state Department of Elections, vowing to appeal to the state Board of Elections or, if that fails, to run as a write-in candidate.
“I am not about to allow a Department in Richmond to disenfranchise the voters of the 30th District by denying the same ballot access they have granted to other candidates,” he said in a written statement. “If that means mounting a successful write-in campaign in order to give the voters an option, then that is exactly what we will do.”
Freitas, considered one of the party’s rising stars, did not face a Republican primary challenger this year. But the elections department said it did not receive paperwork related to his candidacy on time.
Freitas briefly bowed out of the race in July in a tactical move that paved the way for local Republicans to designate him as a replacement candidate — something that’s allowed when a nominee drops out or dies.
But there was some question about whether he could be placed on the ballot as a “replacement” in a race that never had a certified GOP candidate in the first place.
The department answered that question in the negative in a brief letter sent to the nominating committee last Friday. The letter was obtained by The Washington Post this week under a Freedom of Information request.
“All applicable deadlines have passed and the Department is not able to accept the form,” Election Services Manager Dave Nichols wrote.
Freitas said he intended to appeal the decision to the elections board when it meets Tuesday.
“The State Board has an opportunity on August 6th to vote to allow a Republican to be represented on the ballot,” Freitas wrote. “Anything less than that and they call into question years of precedent and open themselves up to the very real charge of putting partisan politics over the people of the 30th District.”
A spokesperson for the elections department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the department’s decision stands, Freitas would have to run as a write-in candidate — something that could pose a significant hurdle in a critical election year.
All 140 seats in the state legislature are on the ballot in November. Republicans have a 51-48 edge in the House of Delegates and a 20-19 advantage in the Senate, with one vacancy in each chamber.
A former Green Beret with a libertarian bent, Freitas first won a seat in the House in 2015. He’s been touted as an up-and-comer who could help rebrand a party that has not won a statewide election since 2009. He narrowly lost his party’s U.S. Senate nomination last year to Corey Stewart.
Freitas represents a bright-red, rural district that includes Madison, Orange and Culpeper counties. President Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by 61% to 34% in 2016. Two years ago, as Democrats picked up 15 House seats in an anti-Trump wave, Freitas beat Democratic challenger Ben Hixon 62% to 38%, despite being outspent nearly 2 to 1.
But Freitas will face more of a challenge this year if he has to rely on voters to write in his name. He would face Democrat Ann Ridgeway, a former teacher and juvenile probation officer.
The elections department said Freitas’ local Republican legislative committee never submitted a required form indicating Freitas was the party’s nominee. And Freitas failed to submit another form, which he personally should have filed as a candidate, the state said.
Bruce Kay, chairman of the GOP’s 30th legislative district, has said he emailed the nomination form to the state, but sent it to an outdated email address. Kay could not provide evidence that he sent the email, saying he had a problem with his computer that caused two years of email to be lost.
As for the form Freitas should have submitted, Kay said the state normally would have sent a reminder to the candidate, but since the first form was not received, that did not happen.
The board was scheduled to discuss Freitas’ case at a meeting July 19, but Freitas withdrew his candidacy the day before. The move was meant to prevent the board from disqualifying him as a candidate.
Under state law, the legislative district committee may nominate a new candidate after normal filing deadlines have passed if a candidate withdraws or dies, but the replacement cannot be someone the state board has disqualified.
The committee met afterward and nominated Freitas as a replacement candidate. Kay said he filled out the requisite form and hand-delivered it to elections officials in Richmond the next day.
But in the letter sent Friday, the department said it could not accept the paperwork.