Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) has said all along he would launch a write-in campaign if he couldn’t get his name on the November ballot any other way, and now that plan is going into effect.
Last week, the Virginia Board of Elections denied his second attempt to become a certified candidate in the 30th District, which includes Orange, Madison and part of Culpeper County.
In a formal statement, Freitas announced his write-in campaign and angrily attacked the integrity of the elections board: “There is no way to read this choice by Governor Northam’s appointees as anything other than a partisan power grab at a time when control over the House of Delegates is up in the air.”
State law allows for two elections board members from the sitting governor’s party and a third from the opposition.
Freitas’ troubles began in late June when he discovered that neither he nor Bruce Kay of Locust Grove, the chair of the local Republican legislative district committee, had submitted required candidacy paperwork by the state’s deadline. In the eyes of the Virginia Department of Elections, Freitas was not an official candidate, even though his party had chosen him as its nominee and he was campaigning for re-election.
After the news broke, he and his attorney delivered the missing paperwork to Richmond. Freitas then requested an extension from the elections board in hopes it would permit his name on the ballot.
The board gave extensions this summer to a Republican incumbent and a Democratic nominee for delegate elsewhere in the state. However, those candidates each were missing only the party certification form, not the certificate of candidate qualification as well.
When the elections board discussed Freitas’ case in July, chair Robert Brink, a former Democratic delegate, signaled that Freitas’ failure to file his personal form on time concerned him more than the missing party form.
The board deferred the matter, pending consultation with the state attorney general’s office. Then, with the clock ticking and evidently fearing his request would be denied, Freitas withdrew from the race.
In a surprising twist, the legislative district committee met a few days later and nominated Freitas again. This time, the candidate and the committee chair made sure to get their paperwork to Richmond the next day.
In a phone interview last Friday, Freitas explained the strategy behind the committee’s decision to re-nominate him after he withdrew from the race: “The legislative district committee, which has the authority to nominate another candidate, decided at this point, because of how long the state board of elections put off this decision, we didn't have sufficient time and we would've probably had to fight it in court.”
In other words, rather than test the waters with someone new, the committee felt it was a better bet to stick with Freitas, an incumbent prepared to draw on his $500,000 war chest and mount a massive write-in campaign, if his re-nomination didn’t go through.
And it didn’t. The elections department acknowledged receiving the party nomination form from Kay this time but said the candidacy deadline had passed. When Freitas appealed to the elections board again last Tuesday, vice chair Dr. John O’Bannon, a former Republican delegate from Richmond, made a motion to accept the nomination and allow Freitas on the ballot. The motion failed to get a second from either Brink or Jamilah D. LeCruise, an attorney and a Democrat. O’Bannon’s motion to permit the Republicans to nominate someone besides Freitas also failed to get a second.
Now that they have been rebuffed by the board, Freitas said he and the legislative district committee are setting their sights on “a successful write-in campaign as opposed to taking our chances with the court.”
Freitas, a national security consultant and former Green Beret, was expected to win against Democratic challenger and political newcomer Ann Ridgeway, a former juvenile probation officer and educator who lives in Madison County. But given that Ridgeway is the only certified candidate for the office he currently holds, Freitas and his campaign have a big project on their hands.
James Clements, general registrar and director of elections in Culpeper County, first discovered Freitas wasn’t scheduled to appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. He said a major write-in campaign for a General Assembly candidate is “highly unusual.” Given the anticipated scale of Freitas’ campaign, he said counting the write-in votes in Culpeper will probably take several days and require extra assistance.
He pointed out that ballots provide clear instructions for write-in candidates. Voters who want to cast such a vote have only to fill in the oval next to “write-in candidate” and then write the name of the candidate of their choice on the accompanying line.
“Voter intent must be clear,” he said with regard to the spelling of a candidate’s name. He cautioned that it’s up to the electoral board, not individual registrars or polling officials, to determine which write-in votes count and which don’t.
A slight misspelling such as “Frietas” instead of “Freitas” would not invalidate a vote, he indicated. However, a write-in simply for “Nick” would raise questions, as would “Freitas” alone, since it could refer to Tina Freitas, Nick Freitas’ wife, who lost in this year’s Republican primary for state senate against incumbent Emmett Hanger.
Asked whether voters could use a sticker printed with a candidate’s name, Clements said that isn’t allowed nor is a rubber stamp. The write-in candidate’s name really must be written on the ballot.
Ballot machines are equipped to handle write-in votes. The oval filled in for a write-in candidate flags the machine to take a photo of the line with the name written on it.
After the polls close, the machine prints out a paper tape, similar to a supermarket receipt, with each image taking up about an inch and General Assembly write-in candidates appearing at the top. Clements said for 1,200 write-in votes, “you’d need 100 feet of tape.”
He said he will report, on Election Night, the number of write-in votes cast, but he will not know the names of write-in candidates. It will be up to the electoral board in each county to tally those votes during the meeting it always holds the next day. Although that meeting is usually completed in a single day, Clements predicts it could take longer this year, possibly several days.
He said he is asking for the patience of the media and voters, who are used to learning election results within hours after the polls close.
“The interesting thing about elections,” Clements said, “is that every single one of them is unique. Every one presents its own opportunities for doing our jobs better. This is just one more.”