Judge rules for state, Prince William County Republicans in elections case

Prince William Registrar Eric Olsen announced Friday that he’s quitting his job after the next election, citing health concerns and the growing stress of operating under intense partisan scrutiny. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

A judge on Wednesday ruled against the Prince William County Office of Elections in a lawsuit filed by the Republican Party of Virginia and its local chapter, forcing the county’s elections office to appoint new Republican chiefs and assistant chiefs at polling places for Election Day on Tuesday.

Filed Oct. 19, the lawsuit argued that the county’s elections office and General Registrar Eric Olsen had appointed elections overseers on behalf of the GOP who had previously voted in Democratic primaries. Per state law, local elections offices must allow polling location chiefs and assistant chiefs from both parties to oversee elections, but Republicans missed the deadline for nominating poll watchers. As a result, the elections office picked registered Republicans on the local party’s behalf.

It’s not the first time local Republicans have failed to nominate elections officers. A similar sequence of events has played out for several elections cycles in a row now, but Virginia GOP Chair Rich Anderson told Potomac Local News last month that recent efforts aimed at recruiting new party members meant that for the first time in years, the local Republican party could fill those election officer roles, so they went ahead and filed suit after the deadline.

Due to the injunction issued by Judge Thomas Horne on behalf of the Circuit Court for Prince William County, the county’s elections office will have to accept new appointments from the Republican Party.

“No one is above the law, and the Prince William County Elections Office violated state law by denying Republicans equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process,” Anderson said in a statement Wednesday. “The Republican Party believes that to be fair, honest, and open, elections must be conducted following every rule in place. The Code of Virginia sets out clear rules about the appointment of officers of elections representing the political parties. I’m pleased that Judge Horne agreed with our position.”

In their filings, attorneys for the defendants – Olsen and the office of elections – argued that local Republicans were not arguing in good faith, having missed the known deadline for nominating overseers.

“Plaintiffs did not follow the procedures in the very code section they are attempting to use here, and they did not timely nominate election officers this year, or for the last approximately 20 Years,” attorney David Hudgins wrote in a brief to the court. “For many years, the Republican Party has abdicated any responsibility for the nomination of election officers. The balance of equities does not tip in favor of plaintiffs, but rather in favor of defendants.”

Horne, a retired judge who stepped in to take the case, disagreed.

“The General Assembly has identified the manner of selection of the officers of election. That selection method is predicated upon the participation of political parties in the process,” Horne wrote in his ruling. “… The integrity of the election process requires that [the] public policy of the Commonwealth enunciated by the General Assembly. If it to be otherwise, the Plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm.”

The elections office now has under a week to train the new Republican officers.

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