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Mayoral nominating petition requirements modified

Where plaintiffs claim that the requirements to be placed on the ballot for the 2020 Richmond mayoral election place a “severe” burden on plaintiff candidate’s “voting, associational and expressive rights guaranteed by the First Amendment” in light of restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the court grants injunctive relief.

Plaintiffs and various election officials have presented a consent order to the court awarding injunctive relief from the application of city charter requirements for those seeking to be mayoral candidates.

The charter requires a petition signed by at least 500 qualified registered voters of Richmond, including at least 50 qualified registered voters in each of the city’s nine election districts. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency. Various executive orders that have curtailed social and economic activity.

“Under these extraordinary circumstances, the process of gathering hand-signed petitions is uncharacteristically challenging. …  Because of these disruptions, McLean is severely limited in her ability to engage in political dialogue or debate at the elevated level in which she seeks to engage in such discussion, namely the seeking of signatures of qualified registered voters in the City of Richmond.”

The qualification criteria in the city charter and in the Virginia Code, as applied to the 2020 Richmond Mayoral Election, severely burden McLean’s First Amendment voting, associational and expressive rights. These criteria “are not the least restrictive means of vindicating these interests in light of the unprecedented social and economic disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As a result, the court grants injunctive relief. The overall signature requirement of qualified registered voters is lowered to 150, with at least 10 signatures of qualified registered voters from each of the city’s nine election districts.

No defendant has proposed an alternate requirement, and the registrar does not opposed moving the petition deadline from June 9 to June 23. This relief applies to any candidate, including McLean.

Lean on McLean, et al. v. Showalter, et al., Case No. CL20-1959 (Order). May 18, 2020; Richmond City Cir. Ct. (Taylor). VLW 020-8-053, 10 pp.

VLW 020-8-053