Haymarket Polling Precinct Shares Building with Republican Office

| October 27, 2014 | 0 Comments | News
Prior to the Nov. 9 election, campaign signs adorn the former Pace West building, which is now houses the offices QBE.

Prior to the Nov. 9 election, campaign signs adorn the former Pace West building, which now houses the QBE offices.

The Republican National Committee has an office in the old Pace West School, where residents of the Haymarket Precinct will vote for elected representatives on Nov. 4.

From an office located at 1445 John Marshall Highway, within the old Pace West building, volunteers are working to promote Barbara Comstock, Republican candidate from the 10th District of Virginia, to the U.S. House of Representative; and Ed Gillespie Virginia’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

Additionally, the old school building houses QBE offices where Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland (R) works. This association makes the former school, at least according to one resident, an even more inappropriate choice for a polling location.

Virginia Code 24.2-604B prohibits campaigning within 40 feet of the entrance to any polling place. One Prince William Democrat believes that holding polling in the same building as a Republican office gives Republicans an unfair advantage.

It’s customary that both major parties have signs outside the polling places. It’s also customary that both major parties have individuals passing out sample ballots that show which candidates each party supports. However, based on the fact(s) that the Haymarket Precinct polling place is co-located with the [Republican National Committee office] in a building owned by a company whose leadership includes a Republican elected official, how are we to know that there won’t be any Election Day shenanigans that prohibit the Democratic Party from staffing the polling place like they have always done?

The resident questioned how the Prince William County Electoral Board could have approved this location and wondered whether its board members were politically motivated, noting that current schools typically host polling. Moreover, the resident noted the precinct can for to either party, noting Governor Terry McAuliffe lost there by only 16 votes in 2013, and Barack Obama won the precinct by 159 votes in 2012.

Electoral Board Responds

Rokey Suleman, Interim General Registrar with the Prince William Electoral Board, defended the choice of the polling location. He confirmed that the polling place is being housed in the old Pace West School, which currently houses a Republican office and as such has numerous Republican signs displayed at the location. However, he said that the Electoral Board has no authority to restrict the use of a private building on days other than Election Day. He also noted that his Board chose the location before the Republican office located within the building.

“When the former school was contracted as a polling location, it was unknown to the Board that the location would also be used as a local campaign headquarters as well,” Suleman said.

According to Suleman, the Electoral Board did consider other locations for polling, but found the old Pace West School the only one that fit all of their criteria.

“The location was chosen because it’s really is the only suitable polling location for the precinct. I do not know what the other “acceptable alternatives” are that are referenced in the letter. I do know that the agency has looked at other alternatives,” Suleman said.

He explained that the polling location needs to be large enough to accommodate lines of voters and parking for their vehicles, criteria alternative locations could not meet.

“The elementary school nearby does not have a room large enough to suit our needs and also lacks parking,” he said. “We did use the Haymarket Town Hall for a primary election in June 2013. This primary was only for the voters of one political party, and the building is not large enough to meet the needs of all of the voters in a general.”

As far as signs displayed on the property, they need to be removed by Election Day.

“There is nothing that the Board can, or should, do about the signs prior to Election Day. If the signs are an issue on Election Day, the Board will seek their prompt removal. The Board can also assure you that there will be no ‘shenanigans’ preventing any election officer from any party to do their job on Election Day,” he said.

Candland Promises Signs Will Be Removed

Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland works for QBE in the old Pace West building. Because of his political position, his employer, who is also the owner of the building, has tasked him with the responsibility of overseeing the campaign office. As such, Candland guaranteed that he will have all campaign signs inside of the building, or within 40 feet of the building, removed before Election Day. Then both parties will be allowed to display their signs outside of that parameter, in accordance with Virginia code.

“QBE has put me in charge in making sure that the operation runs as it’s suppose to run on Election Day,” Candland said. “I need to clear out all the signs close to the building, [and] take down any indication that it is a Republican office.”

Candland said as an additional precaution, they are not allowing any voters to enter through the side of the building, where the Republican office is located.“They won’t have any opportunity to see there was a Republican National Committee office is back there.”

Candland said he is not anticipating any issues on Election Day. “I’m in that precinct, so I’ve been a precinct captain many times. We’ve been able to run things smoothly and in a fair way for both political parties.”

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