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Petition signature requirement lowered

Where plaintiff, a Republican candidate in Virginia for the U.S. Senate, alleges that the commonwealth’s guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are unconstitutional as applied to him because they interfered with his ability to obtain the requisite number of signatures to be placed on the ballot, plaintiff’s emergency motion for preliminary injunctive relief is granted.

Plaintiff will be qualified for the Republican primary ballot “with no fewer than 3,500 valid signatures with no fewer than 100 signatures in each and every congressional district.”

The commonwealth’s guidelines to contain the spread of COVID-19, includes guidance that prohibits “the non-essential gathering of more than ten people in any one location at any time. …

“Under these circumstances, and as applied to the plaintiff, and necessarily to all other Republican candidates for the 2020 primary election ballot for U.S. Senate in Virginia, the burden imposed by Va. Code § 24.2-521(1) is significant, as it precludes them from freely associating at the highest level with the political party of their choice.

“Therefore, at this time, the regulation imposed by Va. Code § 24.2-521(1) is subject to strict scrutiny in order to satisfy the constitutional analysis. … [T]he ‘regulation must be narrowly drawn to advance a state interest of compelling importance.” The commonwealth “articulated no precise interest supporting the application of this regulation in this circumstance.”

The commonwealth neither consents nor objects to the relief plaintiff seeks. “Therefore, the Court has nothing to weigh against ‘the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendment.” Thus, plaintiff has “a considerable likelihood of success on the merits.”

Further, there is a likelihood of irreparable harm if plaintiff’s name does not appear on the ballot due to the application of Va. Code § 24.2-521(1). There is “no other adequate remedy at law. …

“Additionally, as the Commonwealth has not articulated any interest in support of the application of Va. Code § 24.2-521(1) to Republican candidates for the 2020 primary election ballot for U.S. Senate in Virginia, and Plaintiff has articulated a significant interest in Va. Code § 24.2-521(1) Republican candidates for the 2020 primary election ballot for U.S. Senate in Virginia under these circumstances,” the court finds that “the balance of equities tips in favor of plaintiff.”

Plaintiff has asked that he be qualified for the primary ballot “with no fewer than 3,500 valid signatures with no fewer than 100 signatures in each and every congressional district.” The commonwealth has not objected. The court “accepts those numbers” and grants the requested relief.

Omari Faulkner for Virginia, et al. v. Virginia Dep’t of Elections, et al., Case No. CL-20-1456. March 25, 2020; Richmond City Cir. Ct. (Marchant). VLW 020-8-024, 5 pp.