Well, it has been decided. On Wednesday evening, representatives from both Harrisonburg City and Rockingham County got together to determine the method for selecting the Republican nominee to replace the newly promoted Matt Lohr. Their decision is to hold a firehouse primary. But what is a firehouse primary you may ask. Unlike traditional primaries where polling places are open during regular polling times, a firehouse primary is more restrictive…in this case, a lot more restrictive. There will be one and only one voting location for the entire 26th district.
Here, let me quickly go through all the details. After the meeting on March 31, party leaders decided to close the filing deadline on April 10. Ten days later, April 20, the primary will take place at Lacey Spring Elementary School for 4 PM to 8 PM.
Personally, I have a lot of reservations about the process and timetable selected. First of all, I believe the timeframe is way too short. Currently there are two declared candidates in the race, Tony Wilt and John Elledge. Unfortunately, I still don’t really know too much about the political positions of either. Besides an email from one and a Facebook group from the other, I haven’t gotten any additional information. The voters need time to learn about the candidates and 20 days (now we are down to 18) is far too short a window. Second, although the 26th district is not a large district geographically, I think we should have more than one polling place. At least give us one in the city and one in the county. Third, given that the polling place is only open for four hours on a weekday, it is likely that I will have to take time off from work in order to cast my vote. Fourth, no candidate will be able to create an effective campaign team or campaign message in so short a time, so he or she will have no idea whether or not these strategies will be successful in the general election. As mentioned earlier, this district trends very heavily toward the GOP, so I still suspect that whoever wins the nomination will win the election; nevertheless, will we have enough time to discover the best candidate and campaign?
Now there are arguments in favor of the process they have selected. Namely, greatly restricting the time and place of voting along with a very narrow campaigning window will ensure that only the truly dedicated will come out and vote. The possibility of Democrats and Independents coming out to vote will be very low and only the very committed Republican activists will show up.
Given the rushed nature of the process, I therefore predict that voter turnout will be at an all-time low. This race will be determined by just a handful of voters. The question becomes, who can get more of their people to the poll on April 20? I guess we will have to wait and see.