Virginia officials defend ‘free and fair’ elections as primary results are certified

Drawing from bowl sets ballot order for 2024 general elections

Graham Moomaw | 7/4/2024, 6 p.m.
Virginia officials on Tuesday certified the results of last month’s congressional primaries and defended the integrity of the state’s voting …
Virginia State Board of Elections Vice Chair Rosalyn Dance draws a film canister from a crystal bowl to determine ballot order for the 2024 elections. Photo by Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury

Virginia officials on Tuesday certified the results of last month’s congressional primaries and defended the integrity of the state’s voting systems after a contentious election season.

“I think we can comfortably say we’ve had free and fair elections in this primary,” said former Republican Del. John O’Bannon, who now chairs the Virginia State Board of Elections.

The 5th District GOP primary fight between incumbent U.S. Rep Bob Good, R-Campbell, and state Sen. John McGuire, R-Goochland, led to intense scrutiny of Virginia’s election system due to a close finish involving the two hard-right figures. Both McGuire and Good have previously stoked doubts about whether elections can be trusted.

A lawyer for McGuire’s campaign spoke to the elections board Tuesday, saying there were no irregularities in the election that would justify doubting the results or failing to certify McGuire’s apparent victory by a little less than 400 votes.

“We are confident in the integrity of this election and the legitimacy of the result,” said Daniel Bruce, an attorney with the Holtzman Vogel law firm representing McGuire’s campaign.

Good has signaled he’ll seek a recount in the primary he appears to have narrowly lost. No representative spoke on the congressman’s behalf Tuesday. There was no reason for Good to try to block certification of the primary, because the recount his campaign would have to pay for couldn’t begin until after Tuesday’s vote.

Good, who was attacked by former President Donald Trump after Good endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for president, now has 10 days to officially seek a recount.

Following the June 18 primary, Good pointed to several unusual events to cast doubt on the election’s legitimacy, including several fire alarms going off at polling places and officials in the city of Lynchburg mishandling a small number of ballots by failing to follow procedures for an absentee drop box.

Officials said there were normal explanations for the alarms. The drop box issue only involved seven ballots, according to officials. Elections Commissioner Susan Beals, a Republican appointee of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, also gave a speech Tuesday declaring that none of those issues should create doubt about the outcome.

Given all the variables involved in the locally driven process of running an election, she said, minor issues are bound to happen sometimes.

“This local responsibility means that there will be occasional issues with administration, as there are 133 individual elections being held,” Beals said, referring to the number of cities and counties in Virginia. “Any time you have a process that is run by humans, issues may occur. But these are not systemic problems that call into question the results of the election.”

In other business Tuesday, the state elections board voted unanimously to begin the process of potentially removing a local Republican election official who was accused of failing to perform her duties and being unable to set her partisanship aside.

The board voted to seek the removal of Maria Anne Kinney, a GOP member of the Charles City County Electoral Board accused of repeatedly sparring with colleagues in her county and behaving in a manner that made other election officials uncomfortable. Kinney is due in court Wednesday on a misdemeanor assault charge related to a county election employee’s claim Kinney pushed her as election business was being conducted last month. State election officials noted they had not verified the veracity of that accusation.

O’Bannon said the board had heard “sufficient factual information” about Kinney’s case to justify asking a court to make the final decision on whether she should be removed from the local board.

“We’re not adjudicating it,” he said. “That will be the court’s job.”

Looking ahead from the primaries, the state elections board conducted a random drawing Tuesday to determine the order in which political party’s candidates will appear on the ballot for the general election. Prior to the drawing, officials announced that the crystal bowl traditionally used for the process had “shat-tered” after being dropped.

It was replaced by a new, similar-looking crystal bowl. The bowl was filled with film canisters containing strips of paper with the name of a political party, and board members drew the canisters from the bowl to determine the ballot order.

Democrats got the top slot, followed by Republicans and an assortment of third parties.

This story was originally published at VirginiaMercury.com.