Updated: Apr 3, 2021
Hi, I'm Matt Rogers. I'm a grassroots activist who started my career working on my college campus registering voters and have been around for a number of years, including as a Chief of Staff for a Virginia State Senator for close to four years. It's been a long and windy road, including grassroots work registering returning citizens to vote during 2016. Over the last year, I have been instrumental in recruiting a Democrat to challenge every single incumbent House Republican here in Virginia. We're now only two candidates away from reaching that goal -- which means that for the first time in modern Virginia history, there will be 100 Democrats running in 100 districts this November.
To the neutral observer, that seems like a wonderful accomplishment. However, many of the overwhelmingly Democratic districts in Virginia-- due to our historic minority status in the legislature-- have not had contests. The Democratic members of the legislature routinely move onto the next cycle as the nominees by acclamation as the practice is that Republicans don't care to challenge these districts and no Democrat deigns to "primary" them. Over the three election cycles since 2015, Democrats have picked up a net 22 seats-- going from 33 seats in the House of Delegates to 55 seats. During this same period, four congressional seats have been picked up, as well as, two state senate seats. This means that Democrats are in the majority in both houses of the legislature, hold all three statewide elected positions, and both U.S. Senate seats. All of this means that a lot of work has been done. This is the work that I love.
I live in one of these overwhelmingly Democratic districts in a town called Arlington, VA. For non-Virginians, it's the town where Arlington Cemetery, the Pentagon, and National Airport are. Through hard work that I'm involved with, along with my local Democratic committee, we only elect Democrats here. Electing Democrats here isn't the ceiling; it's the floor. The demographics of this town-- which is a bedroom community of Washington, D.C.-- have changed dramatically since the last time voters in this district have had a choice: 2009. The district has become much younger and much more progressive.
In Virginia, as occurs across the country, in order to be a candidate, you have to file a number of forms with the State Board of Elections and others. I decided to run and provided the initial elements of my paperwork to the State Board of Elections in June of 2020. Having worked in these circles for a number of years, I was well-aware of the elements of filing and the responses from the State Board of Elections and their habits of communication with candidates-- especially incumbents -- having been on the receiving end of their entreaties.
In good faith, I sent these documents several months in advance of their due date, always filed campaign finance reports on time, and provided nominating petitions and other required documents to the local Party at the first possible moment that they could be accepted (3/8/2021 at 7:30:00), as was my practice for candidates that I have worked for and helped get elected in the past. The incumbent's team dropped their paperwork off at the same time-- which meant that there would be a process for determining whose name would first appear on the ballot. (Virginia's process is famously bowl drawing.)
Having filed these forms far in advance of the March 25, 2021 deadline, I was anxiously awaiting certification from the local Party Chair to the State Board of Elections that the documents to be provided to them were properly received and to hear from the Board of their date of determining ballot order. On Saturday, March 27, 2021, the local Party Chair conveyed that the incumbent and myself had properly filed our paperwork with them. I was cc'd on this message, along with the incumbent, and the State Party Political Director, Shyam Raman. I was anticipating a response soon from the State Board to let us know what the process would be for determining ballot order. What I received was far different.
On Monday, March 29, 2021, I was forwarded an email from the local Party Chair that was sent to them and the Democratic Party of Virginia's Political Director, Shyam Raman, that I was going to be denied ballot access for lack of filing the Statement of Economic Interests and the Certificate of Candidate Qualification. The Statement of Economic Interests informs people if you hold stock in companies that you could be regulating as a legislator and of other potential conflicts of interest. It is an important document for the people of Virginia to have access to prior to electing someone.
Knowing that I filed these forms so far in advance of the deadline, I began to investigate the situation. I called the State Board of Elections-- who told me, essentially 'tough luck.' The reason given for not informing me prior to the filing deadline, as is a common practice for incumbents, was because they didn't have an email on file for me. That is patently ridiculous because many of the filings that they, in fact, did have and admit that they have include my email address, phone number, and home address. This is basic information provided routinely throughout the process.
Luckily, for candidates in Virginia, there is a process for clerical errors such as these-- whether by the candidate or the Board. Meetings are held where a three-person review board routinely provides a 10-day window to cure problems with filings, including many famous cases of the Board providing this grace period. There are also lesser-known cases done without transparency, as the Commissioner-- who is not a member of the three person Board-- is also authorized to unilaterally offer this extension.
The next meeting to consider such an extension was set for two days after I was informed that I would be disqualified unless granted an extension. This is generally a pro-forma meeting where candidates and/or their staffs can explain their cases and are almost always granted in a blanket fashion because sometimes the mistakes are not on the part of the candidates, but on the State Board itself. As a quick aside, one Democratic congressional candidate and two Republican congressional candidates, including insurrection-loving Bob Good & Nick Freitas were granted this grace period just last year.
At the meeting on March 31, 2021, nine candidates, including a Democratic incumbent-- who later proved to the committee that he post-marked his files -- were in jeopardy of being denied ballot access. Of the eight that remained, two were Republicans and six were Democrats. Five candidates were White and three were Black. The decision was made by the Board to not grant an extension to any of these eight candidates. This decision was made without taking a vote of the three-member panel. That was an interesting decision by the Board and a drastic departure from the norm. It's an even more interesting decision for this reason: the five White candidates have another route to ballot access by the secondary filing method. In Virginia, if you're the only candidate filed for your state Party in your district, you don't have to file by the March 25 deadline-- which requires signatures and a filing fee. If you're the only candidate, the county chair can make an individual the candidate by acclamation. All of the five White candidates will make the ballot by that methodology. The three Black candidates, however, are in primaries: Mike Jones challenging Del. Betsy Carr in HD-69, Cydny Neville challenging Del. Luke Torian in HD-52, and myself challenging Del. Patrick Hope in HD-47. The drastic departure from common practice by this three-member Board gives these three Black candidates running in primaries what amounts to the death penalty for their campaigns and deprives approximately 150,000 voters in these three districts the opportunity to have a say in who their next delegate is. In the case of Richmond City Councilman Mike Jones in HD-69, it deprives a majority Black district of the chance to vote to have a Black representative. In the case of Dumfries Town Councilmember Cyndy Neville, it deprives a district that is majority minority of the vote, as well. In sum, the Board has substituted their votes for those of 150,000 people in two districts that are majority-minority and in another that is young and progressive.
The great sins of the other two candidates worthy of disqualification are the following. In the case of Councilman Mike Jones, he delivered his paperwork to the local Richmond Registrar in January-- who assured him that they were the appropriate body to deliver the paperwork to as they were in close touch with the Department of Elections. Mike Jones relied on their advice to his detriment. In the case of Councilwoman Cydny Neville, whose paperwork was delivered on time, she filled out her Certificate of Candidate Qualification for LOCAL office as opposed to STATE. To be clear, the information provided on that form is identical. Councilwoman Cydny Neville then received a call from the Board of Elections guaranteeing her access to the ballot as long as she sent in an updated form. She did so via certified mail that same day and never heard from the Board of Elections again.
In 2019, the incumbent in the 47th District, Del. Patrick Hope-- who I am challenging-- received a backchannel "automatic" extension for his misfiling-- which was much more involved than the alleged misfilings previously explained here. Not only was Mr. Hope was a recipient of one of these grace periods, but a Republican legislator in the westernmost tip of Virginia received a grace period extension during the same election year. Moreover, in 2018, in a special election in Southwest Virginia, another Republican candidate, Ronnie Campbell, received an extension of this deadline that was not part of a transparent Board process, but was uncovered as a result of a FOIA request by a third-party that uncovered that the Commissioner of the Department granted this extension unilaterally. These are just a few examples. There are many others. They don't always happen in racially uncomfortable settings. Just this past January, a Black candidate received one of these in a special election. The point is that they happen in a power dynamic. The state parties, both Republican and Democratic, have an impact on these Board decisions and their wishes are often given great deference.
Now, the story gets even more interesting. During the March 31, 2021 Board meeting, it was discussed that the Chair of the Board penned a letter to the respective state parties to make sure that their candidates provided their documents in a timely and orderly fashion, as the Board would be less willing to provide these pro-forma extensions. In effect, the onus was being placed on the Democratic Party of Virginia and Republican Party of Virginia to assist THEIR candidates. The State Board apparently made available to the parties a spreadsheet of candidates, prior to the filing deadline, showing which candidates allegedly had problems with their paperwork that would need to be remedied before the filing deadline. Through my own limited, personal, yet quite fruitful investigation, I have found that at least one of our candidates received a call from the Political Director of the Democratic Party of Virginia, Shyam Raman, letting them know that their paperwork had issues that needed to be fixed before the March 25, 2021 deadline. As an aside, I called Mr. Raman immediately after the March 31, 2021 meeting where the Board summarily disqualified three of our Democratic candidates-- who received no such call from him -- and he said it's not his job to call people.
Here we are. This is obviously disparate treatment and the Virginia NAACP agrees.
If you believe that the voters of Virginia should decide who their next representatives would be instead of a three person panel or party insiders, sign this petition from the NAACP. We are not requesting preferential treatment. In fact, we are requesting the normal deference during these unprecedented times instead of our disposition serving as the exception. For your information, people just successfully sued in February to collect their petitions online because we still haven't fully gotten through this pandemic yet and everyone is working on a little grace right now. The voters deserve to choose. Here is my first letter written to the Commissioner of the Department of Elections. Here is my second letter written to the Commissioner of the Department of Elections. In solidarity, Matt Rogers