Richmond's mayoral dropouts inspire change to Virginia election law

Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed legislation this month that lays out a formal procedure for how local election officials handle candidates withdrawing from an election after it’s too late to have their names removed from the ballot.

Three of the eight candidates who qualified for the mayoral ballot pulled out of the race after the ballots had been printed.

“That was unprecedented,” said Richmond Registrar J. Kirk Showalter. “But then we’ve never had quite as many candidates for mayor either.”

The biggest eleventh-hour turn of events was former city councilman Jon Baliles’ decision to drop out of the race the week before the election and endorse the eventual victor, Mayor Levar Stoney, three days before Election Day. Bobby “BJ” Junes, a retired real estate consultant, dropped out of the race on Nov. 4. Former city councilman Bruce Tyler withdrew in late September.

Not all of the mayoral dropouts submitted official paperwork that would have allowed local registrars to post public notices announcing the full list of withdrawn candidates. Junes filed a formal notice well in advance of the election, and Baliles filed notice in the final hours of the campaign.

House Bill 1933, sponsored by Del. Betsy B. Carr, D-Richmond, specifies that if there’s not enough time to delete a candidate from the ballot, registrars must post a list of withdrawn candidates in every polling place and on local government websites. The revised law specifies that to be on the list, a candidate must file official notice rather than a press release or other public statement.

“Before, some assumed that just because they said it in the newspaper that we could act on that information,” Showalter said.

Carr said the idea for the bill came from a constituent concerned about people being “confused” by the mayor’s race.

“It’s simple. It’s basic,” Carr said. “And it’s a beginning step in the right direction so we have that process laid out.”

The bill passed the General Assembly by a wide margin. The House of Delegates approved it 92-5. The Senate vote was unanimous.

The amended law takes effect July 1.