Virginia Republicans won’t allow Orthodox Jews to vote absentee in May 8 convention

Politics

Members of Virginia GOP's governing body also went back and forth on extra voting locations for Chesterfield, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.

Absentee voting sign outside the Chesterfield County general registrar’s office ahead of the 2020 presidential election. (Photo taken by 8News’ Dean Mirshahi)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Republican Party’s governing body ruled out giving Orthodox Jews who observe the Sabbath an absentee voting option for next month’s convention after a heated debate in which some members accused others of working to limit access to voters.

The GOP State Central Committee met Thursday to go over proposed changes to the party’s plan for the convention. These included amendments to allow certain locations to open up an additional location for the convention and give observant Jews who signed up to be delegates an exemption to vote absentee — the same one given to military members — during the convention, which is Saturday, May 8.

Following months of uncertainty on which nominating process to choose, committee members agreed to hold what is being referred to as an “unassembled” or “disassembled” convention on May 8. Approved party delegates will go to a designated location within their district on that day to select the party’s nominee for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

They will turn in their ranked-choice ballots, where delegates will list the candidates they support in order, and the candidate who reaches a majority wins the nomination. If a candidate does not reach over 50%, the candidate with the lowest rank will be eliminated and the count will be done again. Candidates will continue to be removed until one reaches a majority.

A group of four rabbis had requested an amendment to give those with a religious obligation to still take part in the convention, writing to RPV chairman Rich Anderson earlier this month that it would be “impossible” for Orthodox Jews to vote on May 8 and observe the Sabbath.

“They cannot drive a car. They cannot ride in a car. They cannot use a writing utensil. There is no way someone else can vote for them,” Miki Miller, the Virginia GOP’s committee chair for the 3rd Congressional District, said Thursday. “This is either a yes, we let them be a part of our party and vote or we tell them no.”

Those who opposed the proposal argued that not enough research had been done to study the issue, leading some members to call for the amendment to be referred to a committee for further review. SCC members in support of that effort also pointed to the fact that the May 8 convention was fast-approaching and the committee shouldn’t “add more complexity” to the process.

John Massoud, the chair of the SCC’s committee for the 6th Congressional District, said that the Virginia GOP had been doing conventions “for quite some time and this has never come up before.” He added that he has spoken with those in the Orthodox Jewish community in the 6th District who said “there is no ban on them voting.”

The committee’s chair for the 5th Congressional District, Melvin Adams, pointed to the fact that military members who seek to vote absentee have to provide verification that they are who they say they are.

“The reason I feel that we should table this right now, is because we’re two weeks in front of an election,” Melissa Beaudoin, the chair of the party’s committee in the 11th Congressional District, told other members. “We’re changing the quote rules, right before the election. And don’t we want to have it as fair as possible? To do that you don’t change the rules at the very end.” 

Beaudoin said she understood concerns of excluding certain voters but stressed their were other issues at hand and that the committee should not rush into such a move.

Members who supported approving the proposal to grant the absentee voting option stressed there would be no trouble making the accommodation, arguing that only a small group of people who had already signed up to be delegates were seeking to vote absentee due to the religious obligation.

Thomas Turner, the chair of the Young Republicans of Virginia, accused other members of playing “parliamentary games” to prevent those seeking the exemption from taking part in the convention.

“This is why people say we are not inclusive. I have been fighting for inclusivity for the last decade in this party,” Turner, one of two Black members on the GOP committee, said. “Everybody should have an opportunity to speak. Everybody should have an opportunity to vote.

“Let my brothers and sisters in the Jewish community vote. Let them vote! We talk about voter integrity and we’re trying to suppress the vote. This is exactly what this is.”

In the end, the amendment to refer the proposal to a committee for additional review was rejected with a majority vote. However, after a smaller window of debate, the committee couldn’t reach the supermajority threshold, 75%, to include the proposed amendment to the party’s plan.

Ian A. Cummings, the 1st vice chair of the Republican Party of Norfolk, and Kenneth Reid, the 2nd vice chair of the city’s Republican Party, issued a statement blasting the vote from the committee, saying it shouldn’t take a supermajority vote and calling on RPV Chairman Anderson to offer reforms to the process.

“The SCC comprises largely older party insiders who seem to care more about using rules to exclude people from participating instead of growing the GOP base to win elections,” they wrote. “Their attitude seems to be: ‘Keep it small, control it all.’”

Three candidates seeking the GOP nomination for governor at the convention went to social media after the meeting to express their displeasure with the vote, with Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Glenn Youngkin and Peter Doran sending tweets criticizing the decision.

Members go back and forth on extra voting locations

The Republican State Central Committee started its meeting Thursday by going over an amendment the panel had previously discussed: possibly giving certain areas an additional voting location for the convention. The proposal allowed for six localities — Henrico County, Chesterfield County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach — to request an extra spot if they had reached a threshold of 1,200 delegate filings.

“At this time, both Henrico and Chesterfield have above that limit on the order of 2,700 to 3,800 and I would hereby request that in this case, in particular Chesterfield, would be allowed to have a second location,” said Ben Sloane, the committee’s chair of the 7th Congressional District.Based on just traffic flow and other considerations that pertain to their specific venues.   

While basing his thoughts on Chesterfield due to traffic flow concerns, Slone said other locations would likely need to follow the same approach due to “the extremely large number of delegate filings” that the party has received. Other members made their opposition to the measure clear, arguing it could make the convention vulnerable to voter fraud.

“I am opposed to increasing the number of polling place because it’s going to be more difficult to maintain voter integrity. I am absolutely morally opposed to splitting out units into more than one voting location,” Steven Troxel, a representative for the 6th Congressional District on the committee and a professor in Liberty University’s communications department, said told the panel. “I have done enough unassembled conventions and regular conventions to know that it’s a recipe for legal cases.” 

Mauricio Tamargo, a representative for the 11th Congressional District on the SCC, said Fairfax did not need an additional voting location, crediting and boasting that “we worked hard” and “planned well in advance” to prepare. He questioned how other localities would be able to manage another location with only weeks before the convention.

Some members in other districts took exception to Tamargo’s comments, explaining that even through exhaustive work, they had not been able to find one location to hold the amount of people expected.

“What kind of challenges are going to come if people are waiting in long lines, have to be someplace else and feel disenfranchised? I think we have to be as efficient and as user-friendly as we can.” said Carole de Triquet, who represents the 3rd Congressional District on the committee.

Jeff Ryer, a representative of the 2nd Congressional District on the committee and spokesperson for the Virginia Senate caucus, said there were “very encouraging” numbers of delegate filings that surprised him when he first saw them. “These numbers are well beyond anything that I could have envisioned,” he told other members Thursday.

With only needing a majority to pass the proposed amendment to the party’s plan, the board voted 42-27 to allow Chesterfield, Chesapeake and Virginia to have a second voting location. Before the vote, members stressed to holdouts concerned over voter integrity that the number of delegates, the unprecedented convention’s impact on voters and other issues would already put enough pressure on party members and volunteers.

“I think this is one case where we’re going to have to deal with the fact that there’s an additional location to deal with. Because I’m rather hard pressed to see a single quote, un quote precinct handling potentially four or five thousand people over a course of a couple of hours,” Cliff Dunn, another 3rd District representative on the committee.

“We don’t even do that for a regular election.”

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