Access to voter information to boost schools petition drive

8/11/2017, 10:05 a.m.
Paul Goldman has gained access to Richmond voter information for his Put Schools First petition drive under a settlement reached ...
Paul Goldman

By Jeremy M. Lazarus

Paul Goldman has gained access to Richmond voter information for his Put Schools First petition drive under a settlement reached with the office of Attorney General Mark R. Herring.

Already close to securing the nearly 10,400 signatures needed to get on the ballot, Mr. Goldman said the settlement allows him to access the names and addresses of registered voters on a block-by-block basis from the state Department of Elections’ database.

He said that information is essential to his drive to get a proposed City Charter change on the Nov. 7 ballot to focus attention on the need to renovate or replace at least 35 worn-out school buildings.

In exchange for access to the information, Mr. Goldman said he agreed to drop his challenge to a state law that he alleges illegally bars people like him who are leading petition drives from gaining the information. He said he was barred because he did not fit the listed categories of those eligible to obtain the information.

“I think I would have won (the legal challenge), but this is not the time,” he said. “Our campaign has a deadline to file the required signatures to get our proposed charter change on the ballot, and that is first and foremost. At this point, it is more important to get the information than to be tied up in court,” he said.

Mr. Goldman’s petition calls for changing the city’s charter or constitution to give the Richmond mayor a six-month deadline to come up with a fully funded plan for fixing the city’s decaying education buildings or to tell Richmond residents that such a plan is impossible to develop.

Mr. Goldman, in partnership with the Richmond Crusade for Voters and the Sierra Club’s Falls of the James Chapter, is working to gather the mandatory 10,398 signatures of registered voters. He said that is the number of signatures that must be submitted to allow city residents to vote directly on the charter change proposal.

He said this week that a record 10,329 signatures have been collected and submitted through a drive he has largely financed himself, but he wants to secure 14,000 signatures to ensure that there are enough valid signatures for the proposal to make the ballot.

He led volunteers in a push to collect more signatures during Tuesday’s National Night Out events across the city.

“It has taken countless hours of hard work and real money to fuel the first petition drive ever to put facility modernization on the ballot,” he said, noting that the drive received no support from elected officials or influential figures in the city. “Average folks and grassroots groups have done it all,” he said.

He said the signatures must be turned into the Richmond Circuit Court by Friday, Aug. 18, but he hopes to have the drive wrapped up by next Monday, Aug. 7.

Once the requisite number of signatures is verified, the court would issue an order to place the issue on the November ballot. If voters approve it, the charter change then would go to the General Assembly for consideration.

The proposal would become part of the charter if the House of Delegates and state Senate authorize the provision during the 2018 legislative session, and the legislation is signed by the governor.