Exclusive: West Virginia Democrats Added African American Women to Executive Committee With No Voting Power [AUDIO]
“The thing about it is, these positions are non-voting,” state party chairwoman Belinda Biafore said in the February 2020 meeting. "So it doesn't dilute your all's votes in any way, shape, or form."
On the heels of Status Coup’s exposing a highly contentious West Virginia Democratic Party meeting in which party chairwoman Belinda Biafore tried to block members of the newly-formed affirmative action committee from voting on an affirmative action plan, Status Coup has obtained audio from a February 22nd, 2020 WV Democratic Party executive committee meeting that shows Biafore assuring other executive committee members that five women being put up for election to join the committee—three of whom were Black—would be non-voting members.
“The thing about it is, these positions are non-voting,” Biafore is heard saying in the meeting. “So it doesn't dilute your all's votes in any way, shape, or form. What we've done is just simply added more bodies in a time where we need all the help we can get.”
Biafore, a close ally of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, appears to have violated the DNC’s national by-laws by not notifying state party members in advance of the meeting that there would be elections for adding additional members to the executive committee.
In section 11 b (i) of the DNC by-laws, the national party states state and local Democratic Party organizations shall “undertake affirmative action programs designed to encourage the fullest participation of all Democrats in all Party affairs.”
Those party affairs include nominations and selections of party officials. But a source familiar with the February 2020 executive committee meeting told Status Coup Biafore did not include in the meeting agenda any mention of elections or changes in the by-laws.
In addition, Biafore presented the females up for election in a closed session of the executive committee meeting not open to state party members or the public.
Biafore holding the elections in closed session appears to have violated a separate section of the DNC’s national charter. Section 12 of the charter states “All meetings of the Democratic National Committee, the Executive Committee, and all other official Party committees, commissions and bodies shall be open to the public, and votes shall not be taken by secret ballot.”
“Nobody knew about these elections,” Selina Vickers, a longtime activist in West Virginia fighting to reform the state Democratic Party, told Status Coup. “If there were women who wanted to run for these positions, how would anyone know about it?”
Beyond Biafore seemingly disregarding the DNC’s charter and by-laws, the chairwoman’s motivation for putting up the additional female members for nomination—who wouldn’t have voting power—seems tied to a notice she and the state party received from the DNC three days before the February 22nd executive committee meeting.
In that notice from the DNC, the national party informed the WV Democrats executive committee that that it was in violation of the DNC’s equal gender representation requirements for the state executive committee which mandates equal representation of male and female committee members. The violation meant the state executive committee wouldn’t be permitted to select delegates to the national convention; the DNC suggested that delegates be elected by the state convention or a quorum of district-level delegates.
Three days after that DNC notice informing Biafore and party leadership of the equal gender violation, Biafore introduced the five women up for a vote in the closed-session, framing it simply as adding “more bodies in a time where we need all the help we can get.”
But Biafore left out the fact that three days before the meeting, the DNC notice came regarding the state party being in violation of the equal gender representation requirement for the state committee.
“More bodies with no votes is not real representation,” Vickers told Status Coup about the women being put up for a vote that wouldn’t have voting power. “These positions are all ceremonial, they don’t really do anything.”
Vickers also noted that along with the three African American women Biafore put up for a vote in the February 22nd executive committee meeting, there were two white women put up for a vote.
“If she was really committed to inclusion and diversity and she was adding women anyway, she could have added LGBTQ, she could have added Asian, she could have added Hispanic—there were other diversities that could have been added,” Vickers said.
The audio revealing Biafore adding Black members without voting power to the state executive committee is part of a decades-long pattern of the state party offering wink-and-a-nod diversity.
As Status Coup previously reported, in 1974, the DNC’s charter directed all state parties to create affirmative action plans. But West Virginia Democrats and several other state parties never did so. At the 2019 DNC summer meeting, the untenable wink-wink came to a head when Alabama’s state party chair Nancy Worley and Vice chair Randy Kelley had their DNC credentials revoked for failing to craft an adequate diversity plan among other things.
Now Biafore and other WV Democratic leadership might be at risk for the same. After the tumultuous June 3rd West Virginia executive committee meeting—in which chairwoman Biafore attempted to block six at-large members of the affirmative action committee from entering the Zoom meeting where a state party affirmative action plan to be sent to the DNC was being voted on—Vickers filed a challenge with the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee contesting chairwoman Biafore and other party executives’ standing as DNC members.
“Alabama is the precedence,” Vickers told Status Coup. “We'd like her credentials pulled. Her window dressing isn't good enough.” Although the bigger picture is the lack of an authentic diversity plan, the challenge is a bit more nuanced. Ultimately, the point of contention revolves around state party leadership’s failure to engage in any substantive outreach to African American party members to get their input for the affirmative action plan being submitted to the DNC.
The failure was by design, Vickers said: “They went into a cave and whispered, ‘we are having an election in here.’”
If Vickers’ Tuesday DNC hearing is successful in revoking Biafore’s DNC credentials, the DNC could ultimately order a new election to replace her.
The West Virginia Democratic Party did not respond to Status Coup’s request for comment.
Tina-Desiree Berg & Jordan Chariton
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Insidious rigging leads to fraudulent elections.