Jasmine Lipscomb. Courtesy of Lipscomb.
Jasmine Lipscomb. Courtesy of Lipscomb.

Longtime incumbent Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, is not facing an opponent this fall.

However, this is not due to a lack of desire from Jasmine Lipscomb, a 37-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Danville, to become the Democratic nominee. Why she is not has led to a drawn-out tale that has played out mostly on social media — a dispute that one prominent Democratic activist says has racial overtones, with accusations that Democrats would rather have no candidate than nominate a Black woman in a district that voted 59.5% Republican two years ago.

No Democrat in the district, which includes Danville and portions of Pittsylvania and Halifax counties, filed before the April 6 deadline to make the primary ballot, but parties in Virginia have until June 20 to nominate a candidate on their own through individual party committees.

On April 24, Lipscomb, a Black single mother of four, decided to throw her name into the mix. She then had a meeting to discuss the process and various requirements with the 49th District’s nominating committee composed of local chairs: Lauren Schopen of Halifax, Roy Ford Jr. of Pittsylvania and Patricia Harper-Tunley, chair of the neighboring Lunenburg County committee.

At the meeting, the committee informed Lipscomb of two criteria she had to meet before they could hold a caucus in order to nominate her as the Democratic candidate: pay a $500 filing fee and receive 100 signatures within eight days — by 5 p.m. May 20. A call to caucus was issued on May 14 setting the date for May 27. Initially, Lipscomb did not raise any objections to the requirements.

The evening of May 20 came and passed, and Lipscomb failed to submit the nonrefundable $500 fee or signatures. The committee announced via Facebook that the caucus was canceled on May 20 at 5:01 p.m., stating that “no one filed” so there would be no Democratic candidate in the 49th.

Yet the case is far from closed.

Lipscomb hadn’t been able to raise the money in time, but as the only potential Democratic candidate at the moment, she didn’t think it was necessary, according to Section 10.6 in the Democratic Party of Virginia Party Plan. It grants the district committee the authority to nominate a candidate by acclamation if no candidate has been nominated for office via a caucus. In an email sent to the committee on June 1, Lipscomb called into question the motivations behind the committee in stipulating a nonrefundable $500 fee while other districts’ fees have been refundable and as low as $50. 

“Having read Section 10.6 of the Virginia Democratic Party Plan prior to the calling of the caucus I did not have the $500 to pay the filing fee, I did not collect the 100 signatures,” she wrote in the email. “My reading of Section 10.6 of the Democratic Party Plan led me to believe that the only person to step forward to run as a Democrat would be named the HD 49 nominee by acclamation at that time.”

But Harper-Tunely, a Black woman, and the others on the committee did not see it that way.

“If cutting corners and disregarding policy and procedure is the strategy you wish to utilize, I must inform you that the integrity of the process and providing the voters with the best possible candidate is the one and only goal of this committee and will not succumb to tactics of deceit and the attempt of intimidation,” Harper-Tunley emailed in response to Lipscomb. 

It was not too long after that the events hit the internet. Social media accounts such as ActivateVA, a grassroots organization focused on “addressing the lack of competitive elections,” posted on Twitter the email exchanges between Lipscomb and Harper-Tunley, which they received from someone in Lipscomb’s camp, according to Lipscomb. Tweets and other headlines began to appear on a group blog site operated by Daily Kos saying “Inquiring minds want to know: Why is this former Marine & single mom being kept off the ballot in the new HD-49, Danville/Halifax,VA?” “This is an absurd and self-defeating situation,” “No time for barriers or undercover poll tax. Standing with Lipscomb and VA now” and “‘Democratic Party of Virginia?’ Or Is It ­– “The Democratic Party of Republican Danny Marshall?”  

One aspect of the dispute that many people fixated on online was a line in the call to caucus stating the $500 fee was nonrefundable.

“I’ve never heard of one being that high,” said Democratic activist Rebecca Daly of Floyd County, who has followed the situation. “I’ve never heard of a filing fee being nonrefundable.”

Misty Vickers, a first-time Democratic candidate running against Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, in the Roanoke Valley, stated that the requirements are barriers used to keep “normal people” out of places in power. Also describing herself as a single mother raised in poverty, Vickers stressed the importance of voters having choices on their ballots in order to prevent a collapse into fascism. She even likened the fees to a “modern day poll tax.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia declined to provide any statement on the issue until after the June 20 deadline to avoid any further escalation, according to the Party.

However, just a few lines after the bolded “nonrefundable filing fee of $500,” the call to caucus provides a little more insight into this figure. It states: “The filing fee will be used to cover the financial costs of the caucus. All extra funds will be donated to the prevailing candidate’s campaign fund or directly to the candidate who is elected as the Democratic Nominee.”

While higher than the sum of $250 that Vickers was asked to pay, the $500 — which is used to cover caucus costs such as renting a space or printing ballots — would have been returned to Lipscomb had she met the deadline, according to the call to caucus.

There is another common denominator connecting Lipscomb and Vickers aside from them both being young, female first-time candidates: Dr. Fergie Reid Jr.

Son of former Del. William Ferguson “Fergie” Reid, a civil rights activist from Richmond and first Black legislator elected to the Virginia Assembly since Reconstruction in 1968, Reid Jr. has dedicated the past decade to ensuring “Dad’s principles are not getting lost.” Reid, who has lived in California since receiving his medical degree from UCLA, does this primarily through promoting voter registration and recruiting individuals to run as Democrats across Virginia.

Drawing a comparison between the Confederate statues that used to line Monument Avenue in downtown Richmond to the nominating requirements, Reid first recruited Vickers to run in the Roanoke Valley before she connected him with someone from the Roanoke Regional Chamber who put him in touch with Lipscomb. Her background instantly intrigued him.

Born and raised in Danville, Lipscomb joined the Marines following her high school graduation. She served as a legal service specialist ­— similar to a paralegal — and was selected to guard the U.S. embassy in Paris for a time. In 2015, she left to pursue a degree in psychology from Averett University and is currently a substitute teacher.

“The U.S. government has vetted this person down to the ground,” Reid said. “If she’s OK for them, why is she not OK for the Danville nominating committee?”

Reid encouraged Lipscomb to push the nominating committee on the necessity of the filing fee and signatures as she was the only one who had stepped up to challenge the Republican incumbent. He believed it would be a bad look for the party to hand the seat over in a district that is fairly split between party lines, as well as where 40.1% of the population is Black.

“Jasmine didn’t have the money,” he said. “Five hundred dollars is double what other districts were charging. Why is Danville the most expensive place to get in? Why is there an entry fee at all? These are the things my dad was fighting back against. It’s a poll tax, let’s stop dancing around it. People of a certain means cannot pay the price of entry.”

All of the attention generated by the weeks of back-and-forth emails and Twitter wars has had some benefits for Lipscomb. As news of her dilemma spread virtually across the country, donations began to accumulate, and she got the 100 signatures notarized on June 14. She has now raised almost $4,500 for her campaign, received the 100 signatures and on June 14 notified the nominating committee of her fulfilled requirements. With only days left to be nominated, it is now up to the 49th House District nominating committee to choose between intraparty compromise or a certain Republican victory. 

House District 49. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.
House District 49. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

Emily Hemphill is a Political Science and Journalism major at the University of Mary Washington and sports...