Franconia District Candidate Disqualified From School Board Election

December 30, 2023 0 By JohnValbyNation

FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA — Less than two weeks before the general election, Marcia St. John-Cunning, the Democratic-endorsed candidate for the Franconia District seat on the Fairfax County School Board, has been disqualified from the election, according to the Fairfax County Office of Elections.

The decision to disqualify St. John-Cunning was based on a Fairfax County Circuit Court order issued on Wednesday after a hearing, the Office of Elections said. A circuit court judge ruled that St. John-Cunning’s ballot petition was invalid for not correctly placing her address on one page of her ballot petition.

The Fairfax County Democratic Committee said Thursday that it “condemns in the strongest terms” the decision by Judge Richard Gardiner “to disqualify the Democratic-endorsed school board candidate Marcia St. John-Cunning from the ballot in Franconia district.”

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“This decision not only ignores the votes of more than 3,000 citizens who have already voted in the Franconia district, the confusion caused by this decision is harmful to our democracy and the sanctity of the electoral process,” the Fairfax Democrats said in a statement.

The party said it will be launching “an aggressive write-in campaign supporting Marcia St. John-Cunning as she continues to earn the popular vote.”

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In the case, the Eighth Congressional District Republican Committee, along with two voters in Virginia’s 8th congressional district, filed a complaint against Fairfax County General Registrar and Director of Elections Eric Spicer for not invalidating St. John-Cunning’s ballot petition over the incorrect address on the one page.

In the order issued Wednesday, Gardiner, the circuit court judge, ruled that Spicer “violated his non-discretionary ministerial duty” under Virginia law “to invalidate the 7th page of Fairfax School Board candidate Marcia St. John-Cunning’s ballot petition.”

“The pages denoted as ‘4’ in the lower right corner does not have her address on the front page,” the judge said. “Therefore, this petition page and the signatures on the front and back page are invalid as a matter of law.”

A total of 11 signatures on the front and back of the petition page were invalidated in this case, dropping her number of signatures below the 125 valid signatures needed to get on the ballot.

“We are pleased that the court recognized that the Election Registrar failed to perform his obligation of ensuring that ballot petitions comply with the plain letter of the law,” Trey Mayfield, an attorney for the Eighth Congressional District Republican Committee, the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement. “The ballot petition page in question, which Ms. St. John-Cunning herself signed and swore under penalty of law was correct, had a made-up, imaginary address. The law requires that ballot petitions must state the candidate’s address, or the petition is invalid.”

Bryan Graham, chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, described the decision against St. John-Cunning as “outrageous” and one that “disenfranchise[s] voters in the middle of an election.”

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“The case brought by the Eighth Congressional District Republican Committee to undermine our democratic process is disgusting, and the confusion caused by the decision will be catastrophic,” Graham said. “The Republican party of today is one that knows their policies on defunding public education, banning books, and bullying children means they can not win fair elections in Fairfax County.”

Last month, in a separate case, the Fairfax County Republican Party and three residents who live in the Franconia District asked the Fairfax County Circuit Court to order the county registrar’s office to disqualify St. John-Cunning from the ballot in the Nov. 7 general election.

The petitioners argued that six of the signatures submitted by the campaign of St. John-Cunning were invalid because they were undated, “rendering them legally ineligible to support her petition to obtain access to the ballot for the November 7, 2023, General Election.”

That particular case against Spicer was dismissed by a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge on Sept. 20.

In that case, the judge held that while Virginia law implies that ballot petition signatures must be dated, it does not explicitly say so. The judge said he lacked the authority to order Spicer to invalidate signatures on that basis.

In Wednesday’s case, Virginia law states that the front of every ballot petition must have the candidate’s home address, and that omitting that address is material, which makes the entire page and the signatures on it invalid. On the page identified by the plaintiffs, the address listed was not St. John-Cunning’s address.

The judge did not rule her disqualified. He left that step to the registrar, whose legal duty is to tally up the number of valid petition signatures to determine if a candidate is qualified or disqualified.

After the ruling, Spicer reportedly sought guidance from the Virginia Department of Elections, which had already certified the ballots, and that after receiving that guidance, he determined St. John-Cunning to be disqualified.

“The public’s confidence in the integrity of our elections depends on the law being applied consistently to all candidates, regardless of party or position,” Mayfield said. “Having obtained a judicial ruling that the Registrar failed to find that petition page invalid, we are grateful for the swift action taken by the Virginia Department of Elections in determining that Ms. St. John-Cunning is disqualified from the ballot, and notifying the public of that fact at polling places and the Registrar’s website.”

St. John-Cunning was facing off against Republican endorsee Kevin Pinkney in the general election. Tamara Derenak Kaufax, the three-term Franconia District representative on the school board, announced earlier this year that she would not be seeking re-election.

RELATED: Marcia St. John-Cunning To Run For Open Franconia School Board Seat

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