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The Va. GOP’s 2021 convention is a mess. A new law might make them even harder in the future.

Campaign signs at a polling location in Buckingham County, Va., November 3, 2020.
Campaign signs at a polling location in Buckingham County, Va., November 3, 2020.(Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)
Published: Mar. 8, 2021 at 3:35 PM EST
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The Republican Party of Virginia’s attempts to plan a party-run, statewide nominating contest during a global pandemic have been so choppy it’s still unclear if the May 8 drive-up convention at Liberty University will happen as planned.

And it might only get more complicated from here.

Legislation passed by the General Assembly this year will require political parties that choose to forgo state-run primaries to make arrangements for absentee voting starting in 2024, a rule some lawmakers believe will make conventions so difficult they’ll cease to exist.

The bill now awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature requires political parties to make their own accommodations for active-duty military members, people temporarily residing in a foreign country, college students, people with disabilities and anyone who has or has been exposed to an infectious disease that poses a public health threat. In other words, people who couldn’t show up in person for a convention or firehouse primary would have to be given some way to participate remotely.

“This bill ensures that a soldier serving in Afghanistan and the other 90,000 Virginians serving on active duty aren’t deprived of their ability to participate in selecting their nominee,” Del. Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, a U.S. Army veteran who sponsored the bill, said as he presented it in the House of Delegates.

In an interview, Helmer said his bill isn’t meant to ban conventions altogether. But he acknowledged it might incentivize parties to just choose primaries in the future since state-run elections come with a built-in absentee process.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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