The Republican Party will hold a primary Jan. 16 to decide its candidate in the upcoming special election to fill the soon-to-be vacated seat of state Sen. William Mims (R-33), who is expected to submit his resignation Jan. 11 to accept the position of Deputy Attorney General.
"If we don't nominate someone by Jan. 16, we run a risk of not having a Republican candidate in the special election," said Suzanne Volpe, the chairman of the 33rd State Senate Legislative District Committee for the Republican party.
So far two candidates announced their intentions to seek the Republican nomination. As it stands now, J. Randall Minchew, chairman of the Loudoun County Republican Committee, will face Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run). A meeting of the Republican 33rd District Committee, held Saturday and Sunday at the Eastern Loudoun Regional Library, determined the process and the rules to govern the Republican primary. The single polling location will be the Loudoun County Public Schools Administration Building, 21000 Education Court in Ashburn, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the primary will be conducted under the party canvass process, also known as a firehouse primary.
Voters will be asked to provide proper identification in order to be checked against the registered voters list, sign the Republican Party pledge, fill out the paper ballot and drop it into the box. “It is a very simple process for the voters,” said Volpe.
The committee is made up of its chairman, Volpe, and the chairmen of the Loudoun and Fairfax Counties’ Republican committees. Both of the county chairmen appointed other members of the party in their places to determine the process. Minchew appointed Gary Clemens, the Loudoun County Clerk of the Circuit Court, because Minchew is a candidate. Eric Lundberg, the chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, appointed Bob Carlson to represent Fairfax in the process, because Lundberg does not reside in the 33rd District. More than 80 percent of the district is in Loudoun County while the rest of it falls in Fairfax County.
NEITHER STATON NOR Bill Lattanzi, Minchew's campaign manager, had an issue with the firehouse primary process. Staton said he would win the primary regardless of the form, firehouse primary or any other process. Lattanzi said the firehouse primary was the fairest process because it includes members of the public.
The date was set for Monday, Jan. 16, because it falls within the allowed window to nominate a candidate. It is a federal holiday, and therefore gives all voters who do not have to work that day a chance to vote, said Volpe. There is a five-day window for the nomination of any candidate after the writ of the election is issued. It is expected that state Sen. John Chichester (R-28), the president pro tempore of the Senate, will issue the writ on Jan. 11, which is when Mims will submit his resignation. The countdown to the five-day window starts once the electoral boards of both counties post the writ in at least 10 places, at the latest Jan. 12. Regardless of whether the countdown begins Jan. 11 or 12, the five-day window will end Jan. 17, because Jan. 16 is a federal holiday. Clemens preferred the primary be held at a later date, but Mims said he was confident the writ would be issued as soon as his resignation is received. Volpe said Chichester would not be doing his job if he did not issue a writ as soon as he received Mims' resignation. Neither of the campaigns had a problem with the date.
Both of the campaigns also found it fair to have the polling location open for eight hours. At first it was suggested the location be open for five hours, but the committee changed it after the comments from the campaigns and the public. Chris Phillips of Sterling said he was concerned a five-hour time frame would discourage voters with busy schedules and long driving distances to vote.
ALTHOUGH THE PROCESS, the date and the time frame were not issues, the polling location did raise some questions. The committee wrestled with how many polling locations to have and where those locations should be. There were suggestions for multiple polling locations in order to best serve Fairfax County voters as well as Loudoun County voters. It was suggested that two locations, one in Fairfax and one in Loudoun, be opened. Lattanzi said a location in Fairfax would be fair because those voters are used to voting in Fairfax County. A single, centralized, location in Loudoun may leave the Fairfax voters out of the process. "We would have preferred a polling location in Fairfax as well," said Lattanzi.
Staton disagreed. He said if there is one location in Fairfax, there would have to be at least four in Loudoun, to match the representation of the counties in the district. He said the 33rd District is one district, and county lines should not play a role in determining the polling locations. One location in each, he said, would disenfranchise the voters in Loudoun.
Even though the committee concluded Saturday to have one location in both counties, on Sunday it decided to go with one location for the whole district, the Loudoun County Public Schools Administration Building in Ashburn. The decision eliminated concerns of how to split-up a list of 145,000 registered voters in the district and how to transport the closed ballot boxes from polling locations to a centralized location for counting the votes. Thomas Potter, vice chairman of the Loudoun County Republican Party, said a single location ensures the party will provide enough volunteers to work at the primary.
"I believe this location will accommodate our Loudoun and our Fairfax Republican voters," said Clemens. He said the location is accessible and provides adequate parking and space to host a primary. Clemens said he confirmed the building would be available with Edgar Hatrick, the Superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools.
“THE COMMITTEE DEMONSTRATED fairness in this process to candidates, and more importantly to the Republican voters in the district,” said Clemens. Staton said the process was fair, but could have been more so if Minchew had resigned the chairman position at the Loudoun County Republican Committee. He said Mims set the precedent when he resigned from the same position during an election for the House of Delegates seat in the 32nd District.
“The party rules do not call for Minchew to resign,” said John Headley, the chairman of the King George County Republican Committee. Volpe asked Headley to serve as parliamentarian, the chairman’s advisor, in the process. Mary Jane Spence, a district chairman on the Loudoun County Republican Committee, also said Minchew did not have to resign his position according to the party rules.
Although it is clear Minchew and Staton will seek the party’s nomination, there is still time for new candidates to enter the race. The 33rd District committee voted to set the prefiling deadline for candidates at 5 p.m., Jan. 14. Interested candidates may contact Volpe. The candidates who prefile will have their names printed on the ballot, which will also feature a space for write-ins.