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

A U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Danville who has been denied the Democratic nomination by her own party in the 49th House of Delegates District after clashing with local party officials over voter signatures and filing fees has asked the Virginia Department of Elections to place her on the ballot for the November election. 

Jasmine Lipscomb, a 37-year-old Black single mother of four, wrote in an email to Elections Administration Supervisor Paul Saunders on Tuesday that she has handed over all the required paperwork with the exception of Form 511 — the certification of a non-primary candidate — which she said “should have been submitted” by the district’s Democratic nominating committee.

In her email Lipscomb renewed her allegations from a complaint she filed earlier this month against the party’s leadership, accusing her district’s nominating committee of “discrimination based on economic status,” that the panel that had denied her the nomination “was improperly constituted” and that its decision “should be given no weight.”

“Unfortunately, the Democratic HD 49 Nominating Committee was illegitimate according to the Democratic Party of Virginia’s rules and regulations (aka The Democratic Party of Virginia Party Plan), and because of this fact, that nominating committee’s conclusions can not be relied upon by you and the Department of Elections,” Lipscomb wrote. 

The newly created 49th District includes Danville and parts of Pittsylvania and Halifax counties. Data from the Virginia Public Access Project shows that the district is 53% white and 45% minority, including 40.1% Black. The incumbent is Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, a former race car driver who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2001.

Because Democrats did not nominate a candidate by the June 20 deadline — the day of the most recent primary election — Marshall isn’t scheduled to face opposition in the general election this fall. The deadline for the party to submit a candidate’s paperwork to the Virginia Department of Elections to make the ballot passed Monday. 

Lipscomb said in an interview with Cardinal News that she won’t run in November unless her name is on the ballot as the Democratic nominee. “I’m not doing a write-in campaign, and I am not running as an independent. I’m a Democrat, and I’m not going away,” she said. 

Lipscomb’s ongoing feud with party officials began shortly after she first threw her hat into the ring in spring. 

In her first meeting with the district’s nominating committee in April, the local chairs — Tina Younger of Halifax, Roy Ford Jr. of Pittsylvania and Patricia Harper-Tunley, who also chairs the neighboring Lunenburg County committee — informed Lipscomb of the requirements and the nomination process, which included a $500 filing fee and a petition of 100 signatures to be submitted by 5 p.m. May 20. The committee issued a call to caucus on May 14, setting the date for May 27. 

However, because Lipscomb was unable to come up with the $500 filing fee, she did not submit the signatures. Consequently, the committee canceled the caucus meeting and announced that there would be no Democrat seeking election in the district this year — despite the fact that political parties in Virginia are allowed to nominate a candidate on their own through individual party committees by June 20. 

The committee’s announcement set off a flurry of emails between Lipscomb and Harper-Tunley. During the exchange, she stated that as the sole Democrat seeking the nomination she didn’t believe the filing fee was necessary, citing Section 10.6 in the Democratic Party of Virginia Party Plan that grants the district committee the authority to nominate a candidate by acclamation if no candidate has been nominated for office via a caucus.

Harper-Tunley and the other committee members disagreed, and the feud soon spilled over to social media, creating a public spectacle with undertones of racial discrimination that Democrats were hoping to avoid in an election year. Lipscomb eventually submitted the $500 filing fee, which she received from a donor, and the required signatures, but the committee rejected both, arguing that it was too late. 

“As you can see in the emails, I communicated that I subsequently received the $500 donation from an angel donor and was told by Patricia Harper-Tunley that it was too late and no candidate would be nominated. This is discrimination based on economic status,” Lipscomb wrote in her complaint to the party. 

But the complaint also alleges that the committee had no standing in the first place because the panel’s rightful chair, Danville Democratic Chair Clem Oliver, had relinquished her duties as chair of the nominating committee to Harper-Tunley for health reasons. 

The complaint also cites Section 7.4 of the party plan, which states that “the General Assembly District Committees shall consist of the chairs of the county or city committees in whose counties or cities the district lies.” 

But because Harper-Tunley does not live within the boundaries of the 49th District, the complaint argues that she should be prohibited from serving as the district’s committee chair, as should Ford, Jr., the chair of Pittsylvania committee, who lives in the 48th District. 

Harper-Tunley did not respond to a phone call seeking comment on Tuesday. Liam Watson, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, also declined to comment. When asked about how the party handles formal complaints, like Lipscomb’s, Watson referred to Section 5.6 of the party plan, which requires the DPVA Chair Susan Swecker to appoint a subcommittee comprising members of the party’s Steering Committee to review each formal complaint. 

If the subcommittee finds that there is a reasonable basis for the complaint, “it shall immediately begin an investigation” and file “a written report within thirty (30) days of the filing.” Within 30 days of receiving the subcommittee report, the Steering Committee “shall act on the complaint and provide such remedies, as it deems appropriate.”

Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington, said that the feud between Lipscomb and her local nominating committee, and now the Democratic Party of Virginia, was a rare event in Virginia politics. 

“Normally parties will take the one candidate they have, if they only have one. Part of the reason this story has gotten the national attention it has is because the local Democratic organization is saying that not having a candidate is better than having a candidate, which is a very unusual position for a party or organization to take,” Farnsworth said.

Lipscomb’s complaint to the party was amplified upon its filing by two Democratic candidates for the state Senate. 

Pam Garner, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force who is the party’s nominee in Senate District 26 (which stretches from the Richmond suburbs to the Chesapeake Bay), and Myra Payne, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and the nominee in Senate District 19 (which includes parts of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach), said in a joint statement published on the Black Virginia News Substack that the party’s actions against Lipscomb “not only undermine the integrity of the caucus but also contradict the principles of inclusivity and equal opportunity” that the Democratic Party upholds.

“We firmly believe that this incident warrants immediate attention to rectify the injustice faced by Jasmine Lipscomb,” the two nominees said in the statement.

The remedy, they suggest, is that the Virginia Democratic Party declare Lipscomb the nominee. “It is our request that you take appropriate measures to ensure that the Party Plan is adhered to consistently and without bias in future caucus proceedings. Additionally, we urge you to extend a formal apology to Ms. Lipscomb for the distress and discrimination she has endured,” they said.

However, with Monday’s deadline passed, it is no longer in the hands of the Democratic Party to put a candidate on the ballot. But the Virginia State Board of Elections may choose to consider Lipscomb’s complaint and approve her request when it meets again next week. 

This isn’t without precedent. In June 2021, Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun County — who recently lost his bid to become the Republican nominee in the newly created 1st state Senate District — asked the State Board of Elections for reprieve after a local Republican Party official submitted his paperwork as an uncontested primary candidate two days late. The board agreed to take up the case and later granted LaRock’s request to place him on the ballot despite the missed deadline. 

And in 2019, the board accepted late party nomination paperwork for Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, so he would be listed on the ballot as the Republican candidate that year. Kilgore was the winner of a local party convention, which should have allowed him to make the ballot as the official GOP nominee. But a snag in the delivery process resulted in a missed filing deadline.

However, in these cases both candidates had enjoyed the support of their local nominating committees, which is a somewhat different scenario, said Farnsworth, the political scientist.  

“The few times that we’ve had a roughly compatible situation was when a party organization has backed the person using the late paperwork excuse,” Farnsworth said. “If the would-be candidate could get the backing of the party before the next meeting of the State Board of Elections, getting on the ballot would probably happen. But if the party was going to accept the candidate, it probably would have happened by now.”

Despite the different circumstances, Lipscomb is holding out hope that the elections board will take up her case and rule in her favor, just as it has done with the aforementioned Republican candidates.

“Although the reasons … differ slightly, the result is the same; will the tens of thousands of voters in each of these districts have an opportunity to participate in ‘small d’ democracy, or will they be deprived of a choice on their ballot due to the failings of a local nominating committee?” she wrote in her email to elections officials. “I am asking for the same remedy that you provided for Mr. LaRock, Mr. Kilgore, and the tens of thousands of voters in each of their districts.”

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

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org or 804-822-1594.