Hi, I'm Matt Rogers. I'm a grassroots activist who began my political activity on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. I’ve worked as a volunteer, organizer, fundraiser, member of Caucus staff, and as a legislative staffer — most recently as a Chief of Staff for a Virginia State Senator for close to four years. It's been a long and winding road, including grassroots work registering returning citizens (former felons) to vote during 2016. Over the last year in cooperation with 90For90.org, I have been a key participant in an effort to recruit a Democrat to challenge every one of the 45 House Republicans here in Virginia. We're now only two candidates away from reaching that goal — which means that for the first time in modern Virginia history, there will be 100 Democrats running in 100 districts this November.
To the neutral observer, that seems like a wonderful accomplishment. However, in many of Virginia’s highly gerrymandered districts, both Democratic and Republican incumbents don’t get challengers at all. As a result, they become entrenched. Due to Democrats’ historic minority status in the legislature — there are several of these district which have not had contests in several years. These members of the legislature routinely move onto the next cycle as the nominees by acclamation as the practice is that members of the other party don't care to challenge these districts and no member of their own party deigns to "primary" them.
Over the three election cycles since 2015, Democrats have picked up a net 22 seats — going from 33 seats in the House of Delegates to 55 seats. During this same period, four congressional seats have been picked up, as well as, two state senate seats. This means that Democrats are in the majority in both houses of the legislature, hold all three statewide elected positions, and both U.S. Senate seats. All of this means that a lot of work has been done. This is the work that I love.
THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN CROSS-POSTED FROM DOWNWITHTYRANNY.
I live in an overwhelmingly Democratic district in a town called Arlington, VA. For non-Virginians, it's the town where Arlington Cemetery, the Pentagon, and National Airport are. Through hard work, along with my local Democratic committee, we only elect Democrats here. Electing Democrats here isn't the ceiling; it's the floor. The demographics of this town — which is a bedroom community of Washington, D.C. — have changed dramatically since the last time voters in this district have had a choice: 2009. The district has become much younger and much more progressive.
In Virginia, as occurs across the country, in order to be a candidate, you have to file a number of forms with the State Board of Elections and others. I decided to run and provided the initial elements of my paperwork to the State Board of Elections in June of 2020. Having worked in these circles for a number of years, I was well-aware of the elements of filing and the responses from the State Board of Elections and their habits of communication with candidates — especially incumbents — having been on the receiving end of their entreaties.
In good faith, I sent these documents several months in advance of their due date, always filed campaign finance reports on time, and provided nominating petitions and other required documents to the local Party at the first possible moment that they could be accepted: 3/8/2021 at 7:30:00 PM. This was my practice for candidates that I have worked for and helped get elected in the past. The incumbent's team dropped their paperwork off at the same time — which meant that there would be a process for determining whose name would first appear on the ballot. (Virginia's process is famously bowl drawing.)
Having filed these forms far in advance of the Thursday, March 25, 2021 deadline, I was very confident that they were received and in good order. On Saturday, March 27, 2021, the local Party Chair conveyed that the incumbent and myself had properly filed our paperwork with the local Party. I was cc'd on this message, along with the incumbent, and the State Party Political Director, Shyam Raman. Having provided all of my documents to the appropriate local and state representatives, at this point, I was anticipating a response from the State Board that my paperwork was set and in order. What I received was far different.
On Monday, March 29, 2021, I was forwarded an email from the Arlington Party Chair that was sent to them and sent to the Democratic Party of Virginia's Political Director, Shyam Raman, that I would be denied ballot access for lack of filing the Statement of Economic Interests and the Certificate of Candidate Qualification — two of the forms which are required by the State Board, but not the local Party. Both of these forms were filed by me in a timely fashion.
The Statement of Economic Interests informs people if you hold stock in companies that you could be regulating as a legislator and of other potential conflicts of interest. It is an important document for the people of Virginia to have access to prior to electing someone.
I was duly perplexed — knowing that I filed these forms far in advance of the deadline. I began to investigate. I called the State Board of Elections — who told me, essentially 'tough luck.' The reason given for not informing me prior to the deadline (as is a common practice for incumbents) was because they didn't have an email on file for me. That is patently ridiculous because many of the filings that they received from me (and admit that they received from me) include my email address, phone number, and home address. This is basic information provided routinely throughout the process.
For candidates in Virginia, there is a process for clerical errors such as these — whether by the candidate or the Board. Meetings are held with a three-person review board routinely providing a 10-day window to cure problems with filings. There are many famous cases of this extension being granted and causing much controversy. There are many lesser-known cases of these extensions being granted outside of public view, without transparency in a subrosa fashion. Unknown to many, the Commissioner — who is not a member of the three-person Board — is also authorized to offer these extensions unilaterally and has done so in the recent past.
The three-person Board met on Wednesday, March 31 to consider many matters, including extensions for any candidates that may need them, for whatever reason the Board may have deemed their filings to be inadequate. This is generally a pro-forma meeting where candidates and/or their staffs can explain their cases and are almost always granted these extensions in a blanket fashion because sometimes the mistakes are not on the part of the candidates, but on the State Board itself. (As a quick aside, one Democratic congressional candidate and two Republican congressional candidates, including insurrection-loving Bob Good & Nick Freitas were granted this grace period just last year.)
At the meeting on March 31, 2021, nine candidates, including a Democratic incumbent — who later proved to the committee that he post-marked his files — were in jeopardy of being denied ballot access. Of the eight that remained, two were Republicans and six were Democrats. Five candidates were White and three were Black. The decision was made by the Board to not grant an extension to any of these eight candidates. This decision was made without taking a vote of the three-member panel. That was an interesting decision by the Board and a drastic departure from the norm. It's an even more interesting decision for this reason: the five White candidates have a separate route to ballot access by the secondary filing method.
In Virginia, if you're the only candidate filed for your state Party in your district, you don't have to file by the March 25 deadline — which requires signatures and a filing fee. If you're the only candidate, the county chair can make an individual the candidate by acclamation. All of the five White candidates will make the ballot by that methodology. The three Black candidates, however, are in primaries: Mike Jones challenging Del. Betsy Carr in HD-69, Cydny Neville challenging Del. Luke Torian in HD-52, and myself challenging Del. Patrick Hope in HD-47. The drastic departure from common practice by this three-member Board gives these three Black candidates running in primaries what amounts to the death penalty for their campaigns, and deprives approximately 150,000 voters in these three districts the opportunity to have a say in who their next delegate will be. In the case of Richmond City Councilman Mike Jones in HD-69, it deprives a majority Black district of the chance to vote to have a Black representative. In the case of Dumfries Town Councilwoman Cyndy Neville, it deprives a district that is majority-minority of a vote on their representation, as well. In sum, the Board has substituted their votes for those of 150,000 people in two districts that are majority-minority and in another that is young and progressive.
The great sins of the other two candidates worthy of disqualification are the following. In the case of Councilman Mike Jones, he delivered his paperwork to the local Richmond Registrar in January — who assured him that they were the appropriate body to deliver the paperwork to as they were in close touch with the Department of Elections. Mike Jones relied on their advice to his detriment. In the case of Councilwoman Cydny Neville, whose paperwork was delivered on time, she filled out her Certificate of Candidate Qualification for LOCAL office as opposed to STATE. To be clear, the information provided on that form is identical. Councilwoman Cydny Neville then received a call from the Board of Elections guaranteeing her access to the ballot as long as she sent in an updated form. She did so via certified mail that same day and never heard from the Board of Elections again.
In 2019, the incumbent in the 47th District, Del. Patrick Hope — who I am challenging — received a backchannel "automatic" extension for his misfiling — which was much more involved than the alleged misfilings of the Black candidates previously explained above. In 2018, in a special election in Southwest Virginia, a Republican candidate, Ronnie Campbell, received an extension of this deadline that was not part of a transparent Board process, but was uncovered as a result of a FOIA request by a third-party that exposed the Commissioner of the Department granting this extension unilaterally. In 2019 (the same year Mr. Hope got an extension), a Republican legislator in the westernmost tip of Virginia received a grace period extension during the same election year.
These are just a few examples. There are many others. They don't always happen in racially uncomfortable settings. For a special election held in January 2021, a Black candidate in Northern Virginia received one of these extensions in December 2020. The point is that they happen in a power dynamic. The state parties, both Republican and Democratic, have an impact on these Board decisions and their wishes are often given great deference.
Now, the story gets even more interesting. During the March 31, 2021 Board meeting, it was discussed that the Chair of the Board penned a letter to the respective state parties to make sure that their candidates provided their documents in a timely and orderly fashion, as the Board would be less willing to provide these pro-forma extensions. In effect, the onus was being placed on the Democratic Party of Virginia and Republican Party of Virginia to assist THEIR candidates. The State Board apparently made available to the parties a spreadsheet of candidates, prior to the filing deadline, showing which candidates allegedly had problems with their paperwork that would need to be remedied before the filing deadline.
It is now known that at least one of our candidates received a phone call from the Political Director of the Democratic Party of Virginia, Shyam Raman, informing them that their paperwork had issues that needed to be fixed before the March 25, 2021 deadline. Mr. Raman knew this because the Democratic Party of Virginia had been provided a spreadsheet from the Department of Elections. Apparently, the Virginia House Democratic Caucus and the Virginia House Republican Caucus were also provided with this spreadsheet for members of their respective caucuses.
The Democratic Party of Virginia and the Republican Party of Virginia are separate entities from their respective House and Senate caucuses. The caucuses behave and act in their own self-interests — which are the interests of their incumbent members. Sometimes, these interests are at odds with the state parties. With that knowledge in mind, the State Board of Elections communicated to both parties that they didn’t want to be the entity communicating with candidates and their campaigns about their filings. Therefore, they were going to share their spreadsheet of campaigns (deemed to have filing issues with the State Board) with the respective parties, expecting them to behave in good-faith and communicate in a timely fashion with all of their candidates — not just some.
I called Mr. Raman immediately after the March 31, 2021 meeting where the Board summarily disqualified three of our Democratic candidates — all of whom received no such call from Mr. Raman — and he said it's not his job to call people.
Here we are. This is obviously disparate treatment and the Virginia NAACP agrees.
If you believe that the voters of Virginia should decide who their next representatives would be instead of a three person panel or party insiders, sign this petition from the NAACP.
We are not requesting preferential treatment. In fact, we are requesting the normal deference during these unprecedented times instead of our disposition serving as the exception. For your information, people just successfully sued in February to collect their petitions online because we still haven't fully gotten through this pandemic yet and everyone is working on a little grace right now. The voters deserve to choose.
Here is my first letter written to the Commissioner of the Department of Elections.
Here is my second letter written to the Commissioner of the Department of Elections.