PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Wednesday, the three-person Portsmouth Electoral Board put the final stamp on the City Council filing deadline snafu.
They voted 2-1 to keep the June 5 deadline, which will eliminate some candidates from running. Critics claim this is government at its worst.
The city charter was changed in the General Assembly to reflect new city wide elections in November rather than May. However, no government leaders, no attorneys, no election leaders double checked the wording, and that has created one big political mess.
"There is plenty of blame to go around," says Shirley Lassiter of the Portsmouth Electoral Board. She was the only one of three to have the deadline June 12 rather than June 5.
The change in the Portsmouth City Charter caused the confusion. It reads the deadline is at the "closing of the polls on the first Tuesday in June." The problem is there were no polls open on the first Tuesday which was June 5.
Lassiter says, "We seek electoral advice from them. This time it was contradictory, somewhat confusing, and often changing."
The contradictions came from the State Board of Elections that sent an email to the Portsmouth Registrar. It read, "accept all declarations of candidacy through the second Tuesday in June," which was June 12.
But after a conversation with the State Attorney General's Office the new direction was in regard to declarations "The first Tuesday date controls."
A lot of the blame is on Portsmouth City Attorney Tim Oksman who wasn't in the office, and did not return a call from WAVY.com.
Electoral Board member Bill Watts said, "If I were the City Attorney, he's got the staff up there, I would certainly have gone over the Charter to make sure all the I's were dotted and the T's crossed, and I do believe Tim Oksman dropped the ball on that."
The city charter change allowed city council candidates to run for Mayor without resigning. The confusion was caused in part by "informal" legal advice given to the State Board of Elections. The Portsmouth Board of Elections is very concerned about this so called "informal legal advice" they've never seen.
"Opinions from Richmond is one thing, and there is a big difference between informal advice and formal advice," says Lassiter. "Certainly, I would be very hesitant to deny someone the right to run based on informal advice."
Elizabeth Psimas, who missed the deadline says, "Where is that opinion? I want to see it ... I don't like informal anything now. This has denied my right to run."
The State Board of Elections and the State Attorney General's office did not return calls or emails
After an investigation, it is clear everyone has some blame. The Portsmouth Electoral Board blames Portsmouth City Attorney Tim Oksman for not crossing T's and dotting I's when examining the City Charter Change when it came back from Richmond.
State leaders like Senator Louise Lucas are blamed for not shepherding this charter change better.
Local election officials are also spotlighted for not catching the charter change that dictates what they do before advertising one deadline when an earlier one turned out to be the right one.
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