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Dissatisfaction Over Obama Slate Lingers On

Tim Craig

Virginia Democrats love to snicker about the internal divisions that have plagued the state Republican Party in recent years. Now, they've got their own turmoil.

Some Democrats are fuming over how the state party conducted elections at its convention in Hampton on Saturday.

About 150 Democrats were vying for one of a dozen remaining delegate slots to go to the national convention in support of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Before the vote, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's (D) political staff worked with Obama's campaign to identify a slate of candidates they wanted to go to Denver.

But many delegates at the state convention rebelled against the slate, instead opting to vote for individual candidates. The election resulted in some heated moments.

After several hours of vote counting, party officials announced the slate had prevailed, but some delegates are questioning the results. Several of the unsuccessful candidates have contacted the Washington Post. They say they are considering lodging a formal complaint against the party.

"Something needs to be done," said Cauline Yates, 54, an Obama supporter from Charlottesville, who was not on the slate. "Rules were broken."

Yates, a co-founder of a group called Charlottesville for Obama, said she made a motion at one point Saturday afternoon to change the rules so slates were not allowed.

State Party Chairman C. Richard Cranwell, she said, ordered a voice vote. Cranwell ruled Yates motion failed. Yates said she then demanded a formal vote, such as a show of hands, but said Cranwell refused.

"People didn't know who they were voting for," Yates said.

Levar Stoney, executive director of the Virginia Democratic Party, responded, "Our party plan allows for the allowance of slates. They have been going on for a long time."

According to Virginia Democratic Party rules, which are posted on its website, "in any convention or caucus, any individual or group of Democrats may sponsor or endorse a slate of candidates for delegates to any convention. However, no slate may receive preferential treatment or a preferential place on a delegate selection ballot, nor may any slate be publicly identified on the ballot or otherwise as the 'official slate'...Participants must also be permitted to vote for individual delegate candidates."

At Saturday's convention, delegates received a letter from Obama expressing "strong support" for the candidates on the Obama-Kaine slate.

But several of the delegates not on the slate raised concerns about the vote-counting.

Party officials had to count hundreds of ballots, each of which contained about 150 names. Kaine's staff was observing the process. The Washington Post was told Saturday it was not allowed to monitor the vote-counting.

About 7:30 p.m. Saturday, as workers were removing the stage in the convention hall, Yates said a party official emerged from the area where the votes were being counted and said, "We aren't finished counting, but we are confident the slate won."

"How can they declare the slate had won, even before the votes were counted?" asked Yates, a concern echoed by several others on Sunday and Monday. "It was just so chaotic towards the end."

Stoney said the preliminary vote totals were announced before all the votes were counted because it was clear the slate had prevailed.

"We count slate votes first," Stoney said. "There is no use to keep counting when it is clear the slate won."

Stoney noted that Kaine and the Obama campaign put together a slate to make sure Virginia's delegation conformed to Democratic National Committee regulations on race and gender.

"The Obama campaign and the Clinton campaign worked very hard to meet these rigorous requirements put forward by the DNC to make sure our delegation looks like the Commonwealth of Virginia," Stoney said. "We will have one of the most diverse delegations we have seen in Virginia in a long, long time."

But several delegates demanded Monday that the party release a final vote count from Saturday. They want to know whether a second ballot should have been called.

While she and other unsuccessful delegate candidates ponder their next step, Yates said there is growing frustration with state party leadership. The bruised feelings come as Virginia Democrats are already struggling to rally supporters of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) behind Obama.

"I am hanging in there to make sure Obama gets elected," Yates said. "After that is taken care of, there will be an assessment on whether I will help or volunteer for the state party ever again."

Stoney said he is confident the ongoing controversy won't hamper the party's efforts in the fall.

"One thing we can all agree on is we all want to make sure Virginia's 13 electoral votes go to Barack Obama and that Mark Warner goes to the Senate," Stoney said.

By Tim Craig  |  June 16, 2008; 9:33 PM ET
Categories:  Election 2008/Local , Election 2008/President , Election 2008/U.S. Senate , Tim Craig , Timothy M. Kaine  
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