House District 50. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 50. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

Five localities in Southside are headed into uncharted territory: holding a primary election where one of the two candidates has withdrawn from the race after early voting has begun.

“The primary in the 50th House District will still be held regardless of the withdrawal of the candidate,” a spokesperson for the State Board of Elections said Friday.

“There is no mechanism to cancel the primary at this point,” said Mecklenburg County registrar Jason Corwin. “I have been in close contact with the Department of Elections about this issue.”

That’s left some registrars in the district complaining about the cost. 

Corwin says it will cost Mecklenburg $18,000 from this point forward to hold the primary on June 20. That doesn’t count the money that’s already been spent. 

In Prince Edward County, registrar Lynette Wright said via email that “Approximately as of today’s date, Prince Edward County has spent $11,000 which includes Testing, Audio, Coding, Officer of Election early vote payroll & Poll Worker Training, Newspaper notice, postage and ballots. It will cost the county approximately $22,800 for the election.”

In Halifax County, registrar Heather Harding said via email that “we have already spent approximately $6,000 for ballot coding, ballots and staffing. If we continue until June 20, 2023 for election day that one day will cost approximately another $13,000.00-$15,000.00 for staffing the election day precincts.”

Similar costs are expected in the other counties in the district: Charlotte County and Lunenburg County. “I remain hopeful that something will occur to allow us to not expend this additional taxpayer money,” Harding said.

This appears to be the first time since Virginia expanded early voting in 2020 that a candidate has dropped out after voting has begun. As of Wednesday, when John Marsden’s withdrawal became public, 500 ballots had already been cast in the district.

That means it’s technically possible for Marsden to poll more votes than Del. Tommy Wright, R-Lunenburg County, even though he’s dropped out. What would happen then?

“If the candidate who withdrew from the race should win, the issue would be managed by the Republican Party,” said Andrea Gaines of the State Board of Elections. 

State Republican Chairman Rich Anderson said “there is no clear-cut pathway out of this” because the issue isn’t addressed in the state code. “I will suggest to my former General Assembly colleagues that this be addressed in the 2024 legislative session,” he said.

Marsden had been considered a strong challenger to Wright. In the last campaign finance reports, through March 31, he had more cash on hand than the incumbent, and redistricting had reshaped the district so much that 54% of the voters were new to Wright.

However, Marsden said in a statement circulated to supporters on Monday that “I cannot in good conscience serve alongside certain individuals who have recently secured the Republican nomination for Delegate in their respective districts. If elected, this would deprive the citizens of the 50th House District of a voice and the good quality representation that they deserve. Therefore, after much reflection, I have officially withdrawn my name as a candidate for the Republication [sic] nomination on June 20th.”

Attempts to reach Marsden since then have been unsuccessful.