Judge rules that fewer signatures needed for mayoral candidates to get on Nov. ballot

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 5/21/2020, 6 p.m. | Updated on 5/26/2020, 7:54 p.m.
Mayoral candidates in Richmond will need far fewer valid petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, thanks to a lawsuit ...

Mayoral candidates in Richmond will need far fewer valid petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, thanks to a lawsuit one candidate filed challenging the current 500-signature requirement.

Richmond Circuit Court Chief Judge Joi Jeter Taylor on Monday reduced the number of signatures required to 150 based on an agreement between lawyers for the candidate, actress and businesswoman Tracey McLean, and the Richmond City Electoral Board and Richmond Voter Registrar Kirk Showalter.

During the brief hearing, Judge Taylor agreed to temporarily enjoin city election officials from enforcing the 500-signature rule in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that has complicated the collection of required signatures.

Under the agreement, at least 10 registered voters from each of the nine City Council districts would need to sign the petitions, with 60 more coming from any election district.

Representatives of state Attorney General Mark R. Herring, who supported the reduction, were in the courtroom as well.

Ms. Showalter said the ruling will impact anyone seeking to file for mayor. So far, four candidates have done so.

The ruling did not change the requirements for candidates for City Council or the School Board, who are still required to submit 125 valid signatures. No council or School Board candidate has gone to court to get that requirement reduced ahead of the Tuesday, June 9, filing deadline for candidates for those offices. The filing deadline for mayoral candidates is Tuesday, June 23.

Ms. McLean’s attorney, James B. Thorsen, filed the challenge to the mayoral candidate signature requirement on May 1 as Ms. McLean struggled to gather sufficient signatures. She said after the hearing she was still far short of gathering 500 signatures and welcomed the relief.

In addition to Ms. McLean, candidates who have filed to run for the city’s top elected post include incumbent Mayor Levar M. Stoney, 2nd District City Councilwoman Kim B. Gray and attorney M. Justin Griffin.

The mayor did not respond to the suit or appear in court.According to Ms. Showalter’s office, he has filed a portion of the signatures needed; but he is believed to need more.

Ms. Gray said she did not need the relief as she already has filed more than 500 signatures, including at least 50 from each of the nine council districts. She said with help from supporters, she had collected all of the signatures she needed before the coronavirus struck in March.

Mr. Griffin also said that he had overcome the challenge in recent weeks and collected sufficient signatures to meet the original requirement of 500.