RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Democratic candidates vying for seats in the House of Delegates can collect the signatures required to qualify for the June primary online and by mail, the second such agreement between the state’s Department of Elections and candidates who sued for changes to be made in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Del. Lee Carter (D-Manassas), who has put his hat in the governor’s race, and six prospective House candidates filed a lawsuit earlier in the month in an effort to have the department provide a contactless method to collect the witness signatures required to qualify for the ballot.
A Richmond Circuit Court judge approved the agreement on Feb. 11, weeks after a similar suit was settled between two Virginia Democrats eyeing statewide office this year, Paul Goldman and Del. Carter, and the state’s election officials.
Plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit include six candidates, Jennifer Adeli, Patrick Fritz, Rachel Levy, Karishma Mehta, Jennifer Kitchen and Dr. Mark Downey, hoping to make it on the ballot for the Democratic primary.
They cited the health and safety concerns that come with the traditional in-person gathering method and claimed, as the first complaint from Carter and Goldman did, of a violation of the candidates’ First Amendment rights.
“We saw that the existing method of collecting signatures was inherently unsafe during the COVID pandemic, requiring face-to-face distribution of petitions and in-person notarization,” Adeli said in a statement.
Virginia House candidates must submit signatures to the Department of Elections by March 25, a deadline the plaintiffs argued would be unlikely due to the safety guidelines from the state and CDC. Despite the agreement, prospective candidates won’t have much time to gather the signatures needed.
A spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Elections told 8News that they don’t expect to have a system available until early March.
The settlement agreed to on Jan. 25 mandates that election officials create “a form to be used for petition circulation that permits a qualified petition signer to sign a candidate’s petition while not in the presence of a petition circulator” for statewide candidates. The petition signer must provide the following information on the form:
- Affirmation that they are who they say they are
- Affirmation they are a resident of their jurisdiction, including a statement of their address
- The last four digits of their social security number
Those who sign a petition will then transmit the form “either by mail or electronically” to the candidate or their campaign.
“The form will be identical in content to the electronic Virginia petition for statewide offices, except that it will be tailored for use by Democratic candidates seeking to qualify for candidacy for the House of Delegates to be elected during 2021,” the settlement signed on Feb. 11 states.