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Virginia Democrat stays on ballot after paperwork fight

The former governor of Virginia's failure to sign a candidacy document was not a violation of law, a Richmond City judge ruled.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe will stay on the ballot after a state judge rejected arguments by Democratic activists about his failure to sign a candidacy document.

“You have two choices: appear before a notary or before two witnesses who are qualified voters,” said Richmond Circuit Court Judge Bradley B. Cavedo during Wednesday morning’s hearing, granting the state's demurrer and dismissing the dispute with prejudice. He said while state law lists requirements for candidacy documents it does not include a specific requirement of a signature from the candidate. “Mr. McAuliffe chose the second choice and I have to take what is on the form at its face.” 

The dispute started in early June when Roy Perry Bey and other Black Democratic activists got ahold of McAuliffe’s candidacy forms and noticed the lack of signature. They filed suit against the Virginia Board of Elections and other state actors claiming they violated their duties by allowing the McAuliffe to be placed on the ballot despite the discrepancy.

“If this was completed by a notary he’d have to sign because it was being notarized,” argued Norfolk-area attorney Amina Matheny-Willard, who represented the group hoping to see McAuliffe removed. “The same should apply if there’s two witnesses.” 

She added: “To not require the signature perverts the purpose of the form." 

An incredulous look crossed Cavedo’s face as he examined a copy of the document. 

“I’m not sure I agree with you, but I understand your point,” he said. 

Matheny-Willard then tried to link the use of the word “acknowledged” and “attested,” the language used in the state code on candidacy form requirements, to their uses in other kinds of law. 

But Assistant Attorney General Carol Lewis, who defended the Board of Elections and other state defendants, said any attempt to link other uses of the terms was misplaced.

“Any reference to what constitutes attestation from a different title of the code is not in the [relevant elections code.],” she said, before pointing to the division Cavedo eventually sided with. 

“The ‘or’ that is included in the code is a big ‘or,’” she said, adding Virginia state courts have long adhered strictly to what’s in the state code and discouraged additional interpretations when possible.  

“The Virginia General Assembly had the intention to write this provision in that way,” she argued. “We’d urge the court to not insert text that wasn’t put there by the Legislature.” 

Still, Matheny-Willard promised to continue the fight even after ballots have been printed and voting is underway

“Surprisingly I already have the Sept. 29th order on here,” she joked, showing the assembled press a copy of her motion to appeal in the courthouse hallway. 

And while the state and judge both saw the issue as a matter of state law, the plaintiffs think in the end, it’s a matter of race. 

“If any of the other three Democratic candidates had not signed the declaration of candidacy they would have been taken off the ballot,” she said, noting most of McAuliffe’s opponents in the Democratic primary were Black. “A Black person would have never gotten away with this.” 

McAuliffe won the primary against four other candidates with over 60% of the vote. 

Attempts to reach the Virginia Attorney General’s office for comment were not returned by press time. 

The Perry Bey dispute was always a long shot considering the nature of the complaint and McAuliffe's primary win, but the notion gained traction after the Republican Party of Virginia filed a lawsuit making the same candidacy form complaints. Before long members of Glenn Younkin's campaign, McAuliffe's Republican opponent, tweeted out attempts to discredit McAuliffe and the state's election system for allowing the candidate to appear on the ballot.

“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and Terry McAuliffe’s clear violation of the law severely jeopardizes the integrity of our elections in Virginia,” said Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson in a statement announcing the lawsuit in late August.

While motions have been filed by the VA GOP and the state since, no orders or hearings have taken place, though Wednesday's order will undoubtedly weigh on that case's outcome. 

Voting ends in Virginia on Nov. 2.

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