The State Board of Elections on Tuesday added two clarifications to its policy on the petitions candidates file to get on the ballot, a direct result of confusion related to a pair of cases this year, including one that has roiled the 2nd District congressional race.
The new state policy won’t automatically invalidate a signature on a petition that’s missing a year “provided the general registrar can independently and reasonably verify the validity of the petition or signature.”
And the amended policy also stipulates that candidates’ addresses on petitions must match the address on their voter registration, which was among the problems a Richmond Circuit Court found in the case of Shaun Brown, an independent congressional candidate. She was removed from the 2nd Congressional District ballot because of fraudulent signatures collected by the staff of one of her opponents, U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor, a Virginia Beach Republican.
Taylor’s staff worked to get Brown, who ran against him as a Democrat in 2016, on the ballot to siphon votes from the Democratic nominee, Elaine Luria.
James Ellenson, Brown’s lawyer, did not return a call seeking comment on the changes.
The Board of Elections passed both changes with no discussion.
None of the policy changes dealt with what the Richmond judge determined were instances of “forgery, perjury and out-and-out fraud” on Brown’s signatures, which included deceased voters and others who said they never signed the petitions. A criminal investigation is being handled by the Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Office.
Pete Wells, a Libertarian running in the 4th Congressional District, was originally told in July by the Department of Elections that he didn’t have enough valid signatures to be on the ballot. He pursued a historic appeal to recount signatures that had been thrown out for reasons such as an illegible notary seal and signers who forgot to add the year to the date on the petitions.
The board ultimately decided in July that some of the missing information — such as the year — didn’t render a signature invalid, because it could be checked somewhere else on the petition. Wells won the appeal and will appear on the 4th District ballot.
“There is a lot of work that still needs to be done to improve ballot access for third party and independent candidates to put us on equal footing with the privileged positions of the two parties,” Wells said via email.
Wells said right now, the petition process for people outside of Virginia’s two main political parties discourages people from running in elections.
“The process is exceedingly onerous for an average working person,” he said. “It may go easier for someone with wealth, privilege and connections to a well-established political organization.”
Elections staff would like to implement the new policy changes by the beginning of 2019. The Board of Elections will collect public comment on the proposed changes for two weeks and formalize the changes at its November meeting.