Coronavirus Outbreak

Virginia Must Loosen Election Rules for Minor Political Parties

July 16, 2020, 4:43 PM

A handful of Virginia’s petition signature rules for the 2020 general election must be modified in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, a federal judge has ruled.

Virginia requires independent or minor-party candidates for a national office to gather a certain number of signatures and submit them by particular dates to appear on the ballot. The signature threshold and submission dates vary depending on the national office sought.

The Constitution Party of Virginia, Libertarian Party of Virginia, Green Party of Virginia, Independent Green Party of Virginia, and 15 individuals seeking election to national offices sued the state board of elections in May, claiming constitutional violations.

The state’s election rules substantially burden the plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights during the 2020 general election cycle, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia said Wednesday.

Given the need for social distancing and self-isolation to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, “the parties have reasons for longer or shorter petitioning periods, and greater or lesser numbers of signatures,” Judge John A. Gibney Jr. said.

Candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate have until 7 p.m. on Aug. 1 to submit their petitions to the Virginia Board of Elections, the court said.

Those plaintiffs are also only required to collect 35% of the total petition signatures typically required by state law, the court said.

Those running for president and vice president must collect 50% of the total petition signatures typically required by state law, Gibney said.

The court issued its opinion after a bench trial earlier this week. Gibney declined to enjoin enforcement of additional election rules with which the plaintiffs took issue.

The state conceded that the pandemic has impeded the normal course of petition circulation, according to the court’s opinion. It generally didn’t oppose the plaintiffs’ request for judicial relief but sought a higher signature threshold for presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the court said.

The Virginia Attorney General’s Office represented the state.

The case is Constitution Party of Va. v. Va. Bd. of Elections, E.D. Va., No. 20-cv-00349, 7/15/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Porter Wells in Washington at pwells@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com

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