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Drive-thru 5th District convention draws complaints; vote tallying goes late

LYNCHBURG — Hundreds of Republicans turned out on Saturday for a drive-thru convention to vote for Rep. Denver Riggleman or replace him with Bob Good as their party nominee.

Voting ended at 7 p.m. but results were not yet counted as of 10:20 p.m.

The convention played out at the Tree of Life Ministries in Campbell County, just outside Lynchburg, where voters drove through the parking lot to vote. Originally the convention was intended to take place indoors, but the coronavirus pandemic forced convention organizers to rethink the process.

Riggleman, of Nelson County, is seeking a second term but has faced tough competition from Good, a former Campbell County supervisor and Liberty University employee.

By 2 p.m. Saturday, convention organizers did not know how many delegates had participated so far. More than 3,500 people registered as delegates.

The 5th Congressional District is Virginia’s largest, spanning from Fauquier County to the North Carolina border and includes Franklin County and part of Bedford County.

More than 200 volunteers directed cars, handed out ballots and reviewed voter information. Few people volunteering to hand out ballots were wearing masks or gloves.

Cars weaved through the spacious parking lot. While some people waited 10 to 15 minutes to vote, others waited more than an hour.

Convention organizers set up blocks of time for people to vote based on what locality they lived in, but the line for people voting outside of their assigned time block had bottlenecks throughout the day.

“A waste of time,” one man said as he got to the end of a voting line.

“Did you get to vote?” a poll worker asked.

“No,” he said before driving away.

It was unclear why he was unable to vote.

Three men carpooled together, but one of them lived in a different locality than the other two. So they had to drive through twice so the one person could vote in the line for the locality where he resides.

“Have you ever seen anything so absurd?” said John Whitbeck, the former chairman for the Republican Party of Virginia, who has been helping the Riggleman campaign.

Whitbeck credited the Republican committee that organized the convention for doing a good job planning it, but he said elections like this were never meant to happen.

Some people who didn’t have to wait long said they didn’t mind the drive-thru convention, saying it was better than sitting in an auditorium for several hours listening to speeches and participating in the drawn-hour voting process.

“It went easier than I thought,” said Jim Miller, a former U.S. Senate candidate from Rappahannock County. “I thought it was marvelously well-run.”

Riggleman had favored using a primary, which would have given him an advantage as an incumbent with a larger war chest than Good.

“This is the most perverse way to choose a candidate,” Riggleman said Saturday.

Good supporters favor the convention because it gives them a better chance at unseating Riggleman, whose libertarian positions have irked them.

Riggleman especially bothered social conservatives last summer when he officiated a same-sex marriage.

Jim Ardle said he’s known Riggleman since the congressman was 19 years old. They both served in the military together. He waited more than an hour in line, but he said it was worth it to make sure to vote for his friend.

“He says what he believes,” Ardle said.

Ardle didn’t like how activists attacked Riggleman for officiating the marriage. He said people should let others “live and let live.”

“They’re tearing the Republican Party apart,” Ardle said of the people who organized a challenge against Riggleman.

Good declined to be interviewed before the results were announced.

Good failed to file his candidate qualification paperwork to the Virginia Department of Elections before the June 9 deadline. He filed it on Friday.

There has been concern about whether this could result in his name being left off the ballot, triggering nightmares of how Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, made that mistake last year and had to run a write-in campaign. However, Good’s team has been reassuring people they are confident the Board of Elections will grant him an extension.

The Republican Party of Virginia has requested the deadline be extended, arguing that the deadline is usually the day the state-run primary is held. Gov. Ralph Northam delayed the primary until June 23 to provide election officials more time to prepare, but other deadlines weren’t postponed along with it.

The Board of Elections meets July 7.

The Republican nominee will face the winner of the June 23 Democratic primary. The candidates are Roger Dean Huffstetler, a Charlottesville entrepreneur who lost the Democratic nomination for the same seat two years ago; John Lesinski, a former Rappahannock County supervisor; Claire Russo, a Marine veteran from Albemarle County; and Dr. Cameron Webb, a physician and director of health policy and equity at the University of Virginia.


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