May­oral race

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK ROBIN­SON mrobin­son@timesdis­patch.com (804) 649-6734 Twit­ter: @__MarkRobin­son

Rich­mond judge eases bal­lot re­quire­ments for can­di­dates.

A Rich­mond judge on Mon­day low­ered the thresh­old for may­oral can­di­dates to qual­ify for the Novem­ber bal­lot and ex­tended the fil­ing dead­line, cit­ing “ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances” caused by the COVID-19 pan­demic.

Rich­mond Cir­cuit Court judge Joi Tay­lor ruled can­di­dates could ap­pear on the bal­lot if they sub­mit­ted 150 sig­na­tures from reg­is­tered vot­ers, with at least 10 in each of the nine City Coun­cil dis­tricts, by June 23.

The de­ci­sion came in re­sponse to a law­suit filed by Tracey Mclean, a can­di­date for mayor who asked the court to re­duce the out­line in the City Char­ter, and ex­tend the orig­i­nal dead­line set by state law. Nor­mally, may­oral can­di­dates are re­quired to gather 500 hand­writ­ten sig­na­tures from vot­ers, in­clud­ing 50 in each of the nine coun­cil dis­tricts. The orig­i­nal dead­line was June 9.

“In an or­di­nary elec­tion cy­cle, the fore­go­ing re­quire­ments are a con­sti­tu­tion­ally per­mis­si­ble means of pro­tect­ing the com­mon­wealth’s in­ter­est in con­duct­ing fair and or­derly elec­tions as well as its in­ter­est in en­sur­ing that can­di­dates for of­fice demon­strate some mod­icum of sup­port be­fore be­ing placed on the bal­lot,” Judge Tay­lor stated in her or­der. “But this is not an or­di­nary elec­tion.”

She con­tin­ued later: “Un­der these ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances, the process of gath­er­ing hand-signed pe­ti­tions is un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally chal­leng­ing. Op­por­tu­ni­ties to gather pe­ti­tion sig­na­tures are un­usu­ally lim­ited. Would-be pe­ti­tion sign­ers are pre­dictably re­luc­tant to break from so­cial dis­tanc­ing guid­ance to han­dle a clip­board and sign a pe­ti­tion.”

Mclean, a 49-year-old small busi­ness owner and first-time can­di­date for elec­tive of­fice, filed the law­suit ear­lier this month as it ap­peared her ef­forts to make the bal­lot could fall short.

Pub­lic health guide­lines posed a ma­jor ob­sta­cle for her to meet the stan­dard re­quire­ments, she said.

Sim­i­lar le­gal chal­lenges have arisen across the coun­try over the past three months. Can­di­dates, as well as groups push­ing for bal­lot ini­tia­tives, have sued for less strin­gent re­quire­ments given so­cial dis­tanc­ing and stay-at-home or­ders.

Mclean re­quested the court halve the to­tal num­ber of sig­na­tures re­quired of may­oral can­di­dates from 500 to 250, and re­duce the dis­trict-level re­quire­ment from 50 to 10, ac­cord­ing to her com­plaint. She also sought an ex­ten­sion un­til Aug. 11.

Her law­suit named Rich­mond Gen­eral Reg­is­trar J. Kirk Showal­ter, the Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Elec­tions, mem­bers of Rich­mond’s Elec­toral Board and the state Board of Elec­tions, as well as three other prospec­tive can­di­dates for the of­fice.

Showal­ter’s of­fice, which is re­spon­si­ble for con­duct­ing elec­tions in the city, told the court it could ac­com­mo­date an ex­ten­sion un­til June 23 with­out in­ter­fer­ing in its prepa­ra­tion, ac­cord­ing to Tay­lor’s or­der.

When she filed the suit, Mclean had gath­ered about 230 sig­na­tures, but none in two of the nine coun­cil dis­tricts. Since then, she learned more than 100 of them were not valid.

As of Mon­day, she said she needed to gather more sig­na­tures in six of the nine dis­tricts to meet the new re­quire­ments. She said she was pleased with the court’s de­ci­sion, and she hopes it aids other can­di­dates seek­ing to make the bal­lot amid the COVID-19 pan­demic.

Said Mclean, “I’m ex­cited about the out­come and I hope the de­ci­sion can ac­tu­ally ben­e­fit us all.”

Tracey Mclean says COVID-19 mea­sures are an ob­sta­cle to col­lect­ing sig­na­tures.

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