Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, speaks on the floor of the House of Delegates. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia’s State Board of Elections approved a filing deadline extension that could allow two Republican congressional nominees to appear on the November ballot in competitive districts after they failed to file paperwork on time during a coronavirus-disrupted primary season.

The board voted 2-1 to extend the deadline for 5th District Republican nominee Bob Good, Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, a top contender in the GOP’s upcoming 7th District convention, and six other candidates with filing problems.

Despite differing circumstances for different candidates — including the fact that Freitas failed to file paperwork properly last year and had to run a write-in campaign to keep his seat in the House of Delegates — board officials said they could not grant extensions for some candidates and deny them to others.

Elections Board Chairman Bob Brink, a former Democratic delegate, made clear he was unhappy the board was being “forced to give a pass to the scofflaws at the expense of the candidates who followed the rules.” But he said he wasn’t prepared to take the “draconian” step of keeping the candidates off the ballot.

“Doing that would run counter to my personal belief that as much as possible we ought to permit access to the ballot and let the voters decide,” Brink said.

Republican lawyers argued the problems arose from misunderstandings about Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision to delay last month’s primaries by two weeks as a public health precaution. The filing schedule this year was a pandemic-era anomaly, they argued, that didn’t cause true harm to the democratic process.

Good apologized to the board, but said the delegates who elected him at a convention last month had full knowledge of his paperwork issue.

“The delegates knew that, and yet they overwhelmingly voted for me,” Good said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and others warned the elections board they were inviting further chaos by sending a signal to future candidates that rules don’t matter.

“They were negligent,” said Aria Branch, a lawyer for the DCCC who questioned the legality of the filing extension. “And this really is just a failure on their part to comply with the rules.”

Board member Jamilah LeCruise, a Democrat, voted against the extensions, while John O’Bannon, a former Republican delegate, made the motion to grant them.

Typically, candidates competing in a non-primary process like a party-run convention have to file paperwork by the day of the state-run primary. Northam’s order changed the primary date to June 23, but the June 9 filing deadline for non-primary candidates remained unchanged.

Election officials noted that their online bulletins listing filing deadlines stated clearly that the deadline was June 9 and they were prepared to tell candidates that was the deadline had any of them called or emailed to ask.

Tuesday’s vote spares Republicans the fate of having no nominees on the ballot in two important races, which would have been a disastrous scenario for the party that lost three suburban congressional seats in 2018 and is hoping to win some of them back.

Good won the Republican nomination in central Virginia’s 5th District last month, ousting incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson, in a convention Riggleman claimed was rigged by party activists supporting his hard-right opponent. Good’s win buoyed Democrats who hope their nominee, Dr. Cameron Webb, can flip what is now an open seat.

In the 7th District, which stretches from Culpeper County to the Richmond suburbs, Freitas is considered a leading candidate to take on Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, in a swing district expected to be a top target for Republicans. Freitas will compete with five other Republicans at a convention scheduled for July 18. Three of those candidates – Peter Greenwald, Andrew Knaggs and Jason Roberge – also requested filing extensions, according to a list provided by state election officials.

Other candidates requesting filing extensions were 10th District Republican nominee Aliscia Andrews and Rob Jones, a competitor she defeated last month at a nominating convention in Northern Virginia. Andrews is challenging Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg.

Democrat Nicholas Betts, the party’s nominee against Rep. Ben Cline, R-Lexington, in western Virginia’s 6th District also requested an extension.

“It’s obvious it’s not just one political party,” O’Bannon said. “It’s both parties.”

Ex-congressman Tom Garrett, appearing on behalf of the Freitas campaign, said rejecting the extensions would deny a major party a spot on ballots across a huge swathe of the state, limiting the political choices for millions of potential voters.

“That action flies in the face of everything we’re trying to do,” Garrett said.

Branch, the DCCC lawyer, noted that write-in campaigns are always an option.

“Del. Freitas is familiar with that,” she says. “Because this is the second time that he has failed to comply with the deadlines due to his own negligence.”

Board members seemed baffled as to why so many candidates were having trouble filing paperwork on time. Some suggested the General Assembly consider clarifying the law on how the state should handle late filings.