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I am appalled although not completely surprised about the decision of the 74th District Democrat Party committee to have an exclusive “firehouse primary” with a voter list of only about 100 voters!  Here’s the media’s quote of a Dem leader confirming exactly that:

The nominating process, also called a firehouse primary, is open only to “party members in good standing” but not the general public, said Morgan Finkelstein, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Virginia. She said about 100 Democrats in the district fit the criteria.

Here’s the official call with the official criteria listed here:

Participation: Every voting member of a local Democratic committee in the 74th House District of Virginia is urged to attend and participate. Each participant must sign a written declaration the he or she:

  • Is a member in good standing of the Henrico County Democratic Committee, Charles City Democratic Committee, or Richmond City Democratic Committee as of December 18, 2014, and not a member of any other political party; and
  • Does not intend to support any candidate who is opposed to a Democratic nominee in the 74th House District Special Election; and
  • Has not participated in and will not participate in the nominating process of any other party for the 74th House District Special Election; and
  • Is registered to vote in the 74th House District.

I know why they are doing it.  They are afraid that Joe Morrissey might win the special election and then it would be politically difficult to remove a re-elected official.  But why do a Rhodesia-style election where about 100 people will decide the party’s nominee in a heavily Democratic district?  Only a hundred or so party regulars get to decide?  How is this legal or moral?  Even if this is a special election, the winner will vote on every matter in this session before he or she gets to face the voters again in November.  And it’ll give Morrissey an issue to use in the election that he didn’t have before.  (BTW, for the record:  Morrissey should resign and might ought to at least temporarily lose his bar license.)

Paul Goldman, Joe Morrissey’s law partner and a respected former Democratic chairman, says it is not legal:

Paul Goldman, Morrissey’s law partner and a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, was outraged by his party’s decision to “shut out the public” from the nomination process.

“The average person is not a member of the county committee. This is a disenfranchisement of the voters of the 74th District,” Goldman said in a phone interview Friday.

Additionally, Goldman called the nomination process “the greatest black voter suppression” in modern Virginia history. He said he’ll try to challenge the process in federal court but doesn’t know if he has time.

The specific form of the primary, he continued, violates the Democratic Party plan, the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

“They are running this thing as a club. This demonstrates that they talk a good game, but they don’t believe in the rights of the people to open representation,” Goldman said.

I thought there would be excitement Monday at the Federal Courthouse but if Morrissey runs as an independent, he’d be hard pressed to challenge the Rhodesia primary (although he might in his standing as a voter in the 74th!).  I still wish I had the Court beat Monday!  And Morrissey might run as an independent.  Here’s the story:

Del. Joseph D. Morrissey said Saturday that he will not seek the Democratic nomination on Monday to run for his 74th House District seat.

That leaves Morrissey, convicted Dec. 12 of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, with two options — to run as an independent or not run all.

Morrissey said he will make that decision in the next few days.

Let me say it:  Morrissey has $90,000 for his campaign.  He can’t spend it for his personal use.  So, he’s got to run as an independent.  I can see it now:  Joe Morrissey:  Your Independent Voice Fighting for you!  As I said above, (No, Joe Morrissey is not speaking with me about his campaign!) now the Dems have given Morrissey an issue:

Morrissey  *  *  *  blasted his own party for closing Monday’s primary to most Democrats in the district.

“I am shocked that 100 party bosses have shut the door on thousands of African-American voters, and I am not going to be part of that sham process,” Morrissey said in a phone interview.

Now there is a GOP candidate – I do not know and cannot endorse (not yet) – Matt Walton, a 29 year old Sunday School teacher who works as a teacher and track coach at Glen Allen HS according to his website.

Seems to me this is placing the issue away from the misdeeds of Morrissey and refocusing it on what amounts to ballot access issues.  And don’t be fooled:  Morrissey could end up winning the special election.  And it will be politically difficult to expel a legislator after he placed himself before the voters AFTER his misdeeds become public and yet they still want representing them in Richmond.

This whole adventure also shows the need for fair ballot access laws.  But only Robert Sarvis (and this blogger – The Virginia Conservative – Joshua Huffman) seems to be talking about it.  Well, now I join them.  If you do not get to decide who gets on the ballot, your vote is worth very little.

Now I would do the ballot access a bit differently than Sarvis does:

I would base ballot access on either performance in statewide elections (say 2-5%) or signatures on a special petition – not for a candidate – but a party – for example, the Libertarian or Constitution or the Green Party.  Maybe 20 to 30,000 signatures for a four year period for ballot access for the third party or 5-10,000 signatures for a true independent candidate for statewide office and lesser amounts in other elections.

But no one in the General Assembly has yet introduced a ballot access bill.  They might have to (in a special session) if Judge Payne rules that the present signature system violates the Constitution in the Libertarian Party suit against the electoral board.



About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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