The request would reduce the number of signatures needed to qualify for three of this year’s Democratic primaries.
RICHMOND-To be part of June’s Democratic primary races in Virginia, you need 10,000 signatures. That’s something two Democratic candidates want to change. On Tuesday, Del. Lee Carter and former Democratic Party Chairman Paul Goldman filed a lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court. They asked for the signature requirements to be reduced at least for the 2021 statewide primary campaigns.
That means dropping the number of needed signatures from 10,000 to 2,000 in the race for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Under current rules, in a statewide race you have to get at least 400 signatures in each congressional district to make the primary. This lawsuit also requests that practice be eliminated.
Carter pointed to constantly rising COVID-19 infection rates, as a reason to make the change. In a statement sent to media, he argued that nobody needed to be going door to door asking for signatures during a pandemic.
“UVA’s most recent adaptive model predictions for COVID-19 spread during the petition collection window are frightening,” Carter said. “We’re talking about weekly peaks that could be ten times higher than those we saw this summer.”
As of Dec. 22, Virginia reported 314,481 cases over the last 10 months. New cases continue to rise, with 3,591 reported on Tuesday. By comparison, earlier this month, daily cases averaged between 2,000 to 2,100.
“For Delegate Carter and myself, this isn’t about politics, but about people,” Goldman said. “Protecting people and ensuring that people can safely and fairly exercise their right to have the candidate of their choice on the primary ballot.”
Precedent Already Set in Virginia
The lawsuit has a good chance of succeeding, because of what happened earlier this year. Omari Faulkner was one of the candidates for the Republican nomination to run against Sen. Mark Warner. In March, he filed a similar lawsuit, asking the Richmond Circuit Court to reduce the primary signature requirement from 10,000 to 3,500 because of COVID-19. Judge W. Reilly Marchant agreed. However, the decision didn’t end up helping Faulkner. He wasn’t able to collect 3,500 signatures, so he withdrew in April. Daniel Gade ended up winning the Republican primary, before losing to Mark Warner in the general election.
Goldman is part of a crowded field this year for lieutenant governor. Carter meanwhile filed paperwork earlier this month to run for governor. The Manassas delegate has not officially entered the race, however.
In addition to changing the number of signatures needed, the lawsuit also wants more options when it comes to collecting them. The lawsuit asks the court to allow electronic signatures, rather than requiring a written version.
In the media statement, Carter said these changes were necessary to avoid spreading the virus further.
“With the worsening pandemic, we cannot allow our petition drives to become superspreader events,” Carter insisted. “The courts recognized this health risk in 2020 and its time we apply pandemic standards to the 2021 process before a single person is unnecessarily put in harm’s way.”
If approved, the changes would only affect Democratic primaries in Virginia. Republicans voted earlier this year to hold a convention to choose their representative in next fall’s multiple races.
Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].