House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford. (Bob Brown/AP)

RICHMOND — The Republican challenger to Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell on Thursday suffered a setback in her effort to reverse what she says is a change in absentee-ballot rules that gives the incumbent an unfair advantage in next week’s primary.

A judge in Stafford County denied Susan Stimpson’s petition for an emergency injunction that would have made it more difficult for Howell and other candidates to collect absentee ballot requests electronically.

Stimpson, 43, is taking on Howell, 72, in a race to represent a district including Stafford and Fredericksburg. Howell has been in office for 28 years and at one time helped Stimpson win a seat on the county board of supervisors.

“We’re pleased that the court validated our position, as we expected it would,” Howell spokesman Matt Moran said in a statement. “Stimpson has gone about as low as a candidate can go when it comes to nasty political attacks, but that is not going to change our game plan.”

Stimpson said even though the damage is done, she plans to ask the court to revisit the issue in court after the election. The absentee request period ended Tuesday.

“Asking the Stimpson campaign to come back after the injury has occurred is akin to telling a person seeking a protective order to wait to be attacked before seeking the court’s protection,” Stimpson campaign consultant Tim Edson said in a statement.

At issue is a May 13 decision by the state Board of Elections to let voters sign absentee-ballot request forms electronically instead of printing out the forms, signing them with a pen and e-mailing back a scanned attachment or mailing the forms through the post office. The all-digital process lets voters skip the step of printing out the forms.

It also makes it easier for campaigns, parties and groups to submit requests on voters’ behalf.

Stimpson has said the board acted beyond its authority and circumvented the legislature to make a sweeping change in the rules at Howell’s request.

Howell’s campaign has said they merely asked for clarification of the rules.