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ArlingtonDemocrats OK caucus rules as first candidates emerge

Democrats OK caucus rules as first candidates emerge

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The 2022 Arlington County Democratic Committee School Board caucus will be an in-person-only affair with the controversial party-loyalty oath retained, based on rules adopted by the party’s rank-and-file on April 6.

Democrats will select their School Board endorsee during four days of voting in June, using the instant-runoff format that has been a familiar feature of Democratic caucuses in recent years.

“This is going to be a big challenge. It’s going to take an awful lot of volunteers,” party chair Steve Baker said of the return to in-person caucus voting for the first time since 2019. In 2020, as the pandemic was raging, Democrats selected two School Board candidates by mail-in ballot; in 2021, voting was largely conducted online for the lone seat on the ballot.

Voting dates and places for 2022:

• Saturday, June 4 at Lubber Run Community Center.
• Sunday, June 5 at Dr. Charles Drew Elementary School.
• Tuesday, June 7 at Campbell Elementary School.
• Saturday, June 11 at Washington-Liberty High School.

Results are expected the evening of June 11.

At the April 6 meeting, a proposal to include some form of absentee voting was rejected as being too logistically complex.

Among changes to previous procedures: The filing fee for candidates was eliminated and language was eliminated that had required that losers in the endorsement race agree not to run in the general election.

But several other provisions stayed intact.

Baker said the Democratic Party of Virginia had ruled that Arlington Democrats couldn’t remove the “loyalty oath” required of those who vote in the Democratic caucuses. Those taking part in those elections long have been required to sign a pledge that they are Democrats and will not support any non-Democrats in the subsequent general election. Those who won’t sign can’t vote.

The panel that looked over possible revisions also couldn’t find a way to address the question of whether federal-government employees covered by the Hatch Act are allowed to run. That issue became contentious in 2020, when a candidate was forced out of the Democratic caucus over a Hatch Act complaint.

Despite looking into the matter, “We were not able to come up with a solution” to Hatch Act concerns, Baker said.

Democrats are seeking an endorsee for the lone seat on the November ballot; incumbent Barbara Kanninen opted against running for a third four-year term.

Despite criticism of the process, Democrats in February voted overwhelmingly to retain the caucus process, which serves as a de-facto community election. No candidate has won a School Board seat without first winning the Democratic endorsement since independent David Foster won successive elections in 1999 and 2003.

The April 6 meeting saw the first candidates announcing plans to run: Brandon Clark, a teacher in the county school system, and Bethany Sutton, chair of the school system’s Advisory Council on Teaching and Learning. Democrats seeking the party endorsement for School Board have until April 27 to file.

Under state law, School Board seats officially are non-partisan, but political parties can “endorse” candidates rather than formally nominating them – largely a distinction without a difference. County Republicans largely have avoided fielding a candidate in recent years, ceding the field to Democrats and the occasional independent.

For those seeking to run in the general election as a true independent, the filing deadline is mid-June.

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