The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Census delays mean some Virginia Democrats will be on the June ballot twice

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A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Del. Kirk Cox was the only Republican House member seeking a statewide office. Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr. ran for lieutenant governor and Del. Jason S. Miyares is the GOP nominee for attorney general. The article has been corrected.

In next month’s primary elections in Virginia, a few Democrats will be appearing twice on the same ballot for separate seats — and it won’t be a typo.

Instead, it’s part of a peculiarity this year stemming from a delay in U.S. Census Bureau population data used for redrawing political maps every 10 years — which political analysts say might hurt House of Delegates incumbents who are running simultaneously for a statewide office and reelection to their existing seats on June 8.

Normally in the year after a federal census count, primary elections for statewide offices are held in June, with primaries for General Assembly seats postponed for about two months while district maps are redrawn based on the new census data. That allows House incumbents to first run for higher office and then later run for their existing seat if they weren’t successful in their statewide bid.

But the census delay this year means the districts won’t be changing in time for the election — so state election officials saw no need to postpone the House races and are instead holding both elections on the same day.

A recent mailer from Del. Mark Levine (Alexandria) tried to make light of the unusual situation.

“A leader so nice, you can vote for him twice!” the mailer read, referring to Levine’s appearance as both a candidate for lieutenant governor and the House of Delegates.

Political analysts say the choice to run simultaneous campaigns could turn off voters and leave those incumbents without an office.

“Running for two offices at once is a bad idea,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. “It’s a difficult message to sell: That you should be selected for two different offices on the same ballot.”

The problem is unique to Levine and three other Democratic delegates who’ve opted to seek reelection to their seats while pursuing a statewide office: Lee J. Carter (Manassas), a candidate for governor; Sam Rasoul (Roanoke), a candidate for lieutenant governor; and Jerrauld C. “Jay” Jones (Norfolk), who is trying to unseat Attorney General Mark R. Herring.

Among Republicans, Del. Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights), who lost the party’s nomination for governor, and Del. Jason S. Miyares (Virginia Beach), the nominee for attorney general, are not seeking reelection to their House seats. Del. Glenn R. Davis (Virginia Beach), who ran for lieutenant governor, is seeking reelection but was not forced to run for two seats on the June primary ballot because his party held a May nomination convention for statewide offices.

Normally, the dual campaigning could have been more easily avoided.

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In the year after a decennial census count, Virginia typically gets population data used for redistricting early because federal officials know the state holds elections that year based on redrawn maps.

The process usually means postponing local primary elections to August to allow time enough for the new maps to be drawn and for voters to be notified, said Chris Piper, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Elections.

But this year was different. The coronavirus pandemic and other issues, such as the Trump administration’s effort to stop the count of undocumented immigrants, led to delays in the count, which then held up the population data.

After census officials announced that the data won’t be available until later in the year, Virginia’s bipartisan redistricting commission concluded that new maps couldn’t be drawn in time for any of this year’s local elections. Statewide elections are not affected by redistricting.

The development prompted the State Board of Elections to keep House elections on the same June 8 schedule as the statewide elections, which, in turn, affected the Democratic incumbents who had already announced their runs for higher office.

Now, all of those incumbents except Rasoul — who doesn’t have a primary election challenger — have bounced between campaigns, hoping for a statewide victory that would mean they no longer need their seats, while fending off challengers just in case they do.

Levine, a former deputy House whip, said he is frustrated by having to run for two seats at once, contending that it may not even be legal because Virginia’s constitution requires House elections to be held in redrawn districts this year.

“I did not think that Donald Trump would mess up the census and I didn’t think that we would violate our constitution,” Levine said. “So, yes, I did not expect them to be on the same day.”

Herring’s office was asked earlier this month to issue an opinion on the legality of the elections but has yet to do so.

In Levine’s Alexandria district, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker — the city’s vice mayor — said she entered the primary election in January assuming that Levine would not seek reelection.

Because Levine is running for both offices, Bennett-Parker argues that he is treating the House seat as an afterthought.

“This district deserves someone who wants to be their representative, doesn’t treat them as a backup plan and is an effective leader,” said Bennett-Parker, who counts state Sen. Adam Ebbin (Alexandria) — an intraparty rival to Levine — as a key endorsement.

So far, Bennett-Parker has raised $106,000 in the race, compared with the $46,000 Levine has dedicated to his bid for a fourth House term. But Levine, an independently wealthy attorney, has vast resources, loaning $360,000 to his campaign for lieutenant governor.

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Carter, who was first elected in 2017, has two primary opponents: Michelle Maldonado, an attorney and small-business owner in Bristow, and Helen Zurita, a Manassas community activist. Carter has raised $72,000 for his reelection effort, compared with $26,000 collected by Maldonado and $3,500 by Zurita.

Jones’s sole opponent is Hannah Kinder, a campaigns director at a California-based sustainable foods nonprofit. She has raised $13,000 while the two-term delegate has collected $225,000 for his House reelection campaign.

One former dual candidate bowed out of a statewide race after her House seat attracted heavy competition. Del. Elizabeth R. Guzman’s bid for lieutenant governor prompted three Democrats to jump into the primary contest for her House seat: transportation policy adviser Rod Hall, community activist Kara Pitek and Idris O’Connor, who chairs a coalition of Prince William County churches that provide services to the poor.

Hall, a former director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s legislative affairs office, has gained the most traction, securing early endorsements from multiple local Democratic lawmakers who might have otherwise backed Guzman (Prince William).

Then, in March, Guzman announced that she would also seek reelection to her House seat. The following month, she dropped out of the lieutenant governor’s race, determining that she didn’t have enough funds to wage an effective statewide campaign.

But the officials who had publicly supported Hall declined to withdraw their endorsements.

“In this business, your word is your bond,” said state Sen. Scott Surovell (Prince William), who has continued to advocate for Hall but said he still considers Guzman a friend. “Once you’ve given your commitment, you can’t go back or you’re not going to last very long.”

Guzman has since collected her own key endorsements for her reelection from party leaders who initially remained neutral in the race after supporting someone else for lieutenant governor. Among them: House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (Fairfax) and Majority Leader Charniele L. Herring (Alexandria).

Guzman said she decided to focus on winning back her House seat out of worry that the communities she advocates for — among them immigrants and other blue-collar workers — could lose an effective voice in Richmond. But the choice was also practical.

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“At the end of the day, it came down to what I’m more likely to control, in terms of the outcome,” she said.

Hall said he was recruited by various local Democratic lawmakers to run for Guzman’s seat and wouldn’t have agreed if he knew she would seek reelection.

He now argues that he would be more effective than her, particularly in efforts to expand mass transit in the district that includes a portion of Fauquier County.

“I understand what it takes at the federal level as well as the state level to get the job done,” Hall said.

Farnsworth said Guzman and the other incumbents may become victims of their own ambitions in a year with an election quirk beyond their control.

“This is a very difficult environment that I imagine all of them were trying to avoid,” he said.