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City Says Election Fracas May Torpedo Next Vote

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - The City of Richmond sued its circuit court clerk to force the release of documents and machines tied to his recent, but now contested re-election.

At issue isn't the integrity of Edward Jewett, who worked for the circuit court for 28 years before being appointed clerk upon the retirement of Bevill Dean in 2013, but rather that in sealing certain voting records and equipment related to his formal election to the position last fall, he may be unintentionally impeding preparations for next year's election.

The issue arises from a pro se challenge to the election results in the clerk's race by Emmett "Jay" Jafari, who opposed Jewett.

In a lengthy Facebook post, Jafari says he filed a challenge to the results on Dec. 4, 2014, to request a special election and to break an historic pattern of clerks serving practically for life, then retiring before the end of their current term to allow their hand-picked successor to run as the incumbent.

Jafari, owner of African American Tours of Richmond, says the practice puts newcomers to the political arena at a decided disadvantage.

Jewett has still not been served with a copy of the complaint, but he nevertheless ordered that all USB drives, ballot cards, keys to voting machines, and poll book information be sealed and preserved in accordance with the state law pertaining to contested elections.

According to the city and its general registrar, J. Kirk Showalter, Jewett intends to withhold the records and equipment until the one-year deadline for service of Jafari's petition has passed.

"But interpreting Virginia Code § 24.2-808 as allowing a full year for an election contest to be decided would conflict with statutory requirements that the Registrar and Board have to prepare for upcoming elections, including a primary election set for June 2015 and the November 2015 general election," the plaintiffs say.

They explain that, "In order for voting materials and machines to be ready for that primary and that general election, they must be available for cleaning and the wiping of old data, a process that takes several weeks leading up to primaries and elections."

The crux of their argument is that "[s]tatutes must be interpreted in a manner harmonizing them both internally and externally ... in relation to other stations, especially related statutes." and this being the case, "Jafari's unserved Petition cannot be interpreted as a valid, active challenge to the election in question, requiring the holding of election data and materials in a manner that would interfere with other upcoming elections."

"Such an interpretation would upset the election system, paralyzing it at the hands of any dilatory or obstructionist litigant that files but fails to serve a complaint or petition," the plaintiffs say.

They are asking the circuit court to issue a writ of mandamus or, in the alternative, an injunction, instructing Jewett to unseal and release the materials and records.

Deputy City Attorney Stephen M. Hall is representing the plaintiffs.


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