Troubling Ballot Chicanery in Virginia Elections Requires Immediate Action

In a chilling reminder that the integrity of our voting process is under constant attack, there is a serious violation of electoral law under way right now in the Elections Office of Fairfax County, Virginia. The Fairfax County Registrar, Eric Spicer, has allowed a candidate for school board to appear on the ballot although she failed to submit proper petitions with sufficient signatures.  Immediate action is required by the county Electoral Board to disqualify her.

This is in direct contrast with the usual meticulous practice of the Registrar’s office, at least when adjudicating petitions from Republican candidates. The challenged petitions contain irregularities that according to Virginia law are “material.”  They may also indicate petition circulator fraud, which in Virginia law is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Spicer accepted the petitions in spite of legal deficiencies and allowed the name on the ballot. Voters in the district noticed and brought a formal challenge to signatures with missing dates submitted by the candidate for school board in the Franconia district, Marcia St. John-Cunning. The voters noted that holding as valid undated signatures “would circumvent entirely Virginia’s voter integrity measures.” Missing dates on signatures opens the possibility of forgery and fraud, because there is no way to prove those signatures were not added after the form had been notarized.

Such petition irregularities also raise questions about the competency of a candidate. Former President Obama successfully challenged petitions to kick his opponents off the ballot. In answer to critics, he observed: “if you couldn’t run a successful petition drive, then that raised questions in terms of how effective a representative you were going to be.”

As it turned out, though, St. John-Cunning’s petitions  had more problems than one. The judge overseeing the initial challenge referred the matter to the electoral board. In the process of discovery, the voters saw another, more serious problem: St. John-Cunning had submitted a form with 11 signatures on it, that had the wrong address for her home on the front. As the voters noted: “This petition page is invalid, and the eleven voter signatures on it that the Registrar approved are also thus invalid. This alone disqualifies Ms. St. John-Cunning’s candidacy, because she will have only 114 signatures, instead of the required 125.”

That wrong address on the front of the form is a real problem. Virginia Code (1 VAC 20-50-20) expressly states, regarding ballot petitions:

“B. The following omissions are always material and any petition containing such omissions shall be rendered invalid if . . .

The petition does not have the name, or some variation of the name, and address of the candidate on the front of the form; ….” (emphasis added)

It also raises another question: Ms. St. John-Cunning signed the form claiming to have been the circulator. If she was the circulator, how did she get her own home address wrong? 1 VAC 20-50-20 also states that if any person signs the form other than the actual circulator – the person who asked people to sign it – the petition is rendered invalid.

Strangely, Registrar Spicer approved St. John-Cunning’s petitions and allowed her name to appear on the ballot. This is in spite of the formidable reputation the Registrar’s office has developed as a stickler for detail and for enforcing every last little point of the law. Why did Spicer accept obviously invalid petitions?

Fairfax County Republican Committee (FCRC) filed suit to block the petitions. Nick Andersen, the FCRC vice chair for operations, attached an affidavit to the suit, laying out examples of how carefully Spicer had adjudicated past petition submissions. Quoting from Andersen’s affidavit:

“In 2023 I have worked with over … a dozen candidates, assisting with ballot petitions. In my experience, the Fairfax County Office of Elections requires exacting compliance with applicable rules. Candidates routinely had individual signature petitions, as well as entire petition pages, invalidated when the rules were not followed….  The Office of Elections will even invalidate signatures or petition pages when compliance is uncertain.”

The issue is now before the three-member county Electoral Board. The board is composed of a Democrat, Katherine Hanley; a Republican, Jeffrey Shapiro; and a retired ambassador, Christopher Henzel. I wrote to each of them to ask several pointed questions (below). I received no answer as of time of publication.

Is having a wrong candidate address on the front of the form a material omission under Virginia law (see Virginia Code 1 VAC 20-50-20)? If not, what part of Virginia law allows that?

Is a signature valid if it is added to a ballot petition page after the petition page has been notarized? If so, what safeguards against forgery replace the safeguards that otherwise exist, namely, the requirement for a circulator’s attestation in front of a notary?

Is having a series of undated signatures at the end of a ballot petition page a sufficient reason to reject those signatures?

When a candidate enters the wrong address for her own home, yet claims to have been the petition circulator, does that cast doubt on her signed statement?

When a candidate claims to have circulated all her petitions, yet has the same voter signing two separate petitions on the same day, does that cast doubt on her claim to have been the circulator for both those petitions?

On what basis, if any, is there leeway in applying the electoral laws of Virginia? Do you or the Registrar have any “wiggle room” in deciding to apply the law?

Is there any penalty for you, as an electoral board member, for failing to apply the law fairly and consistently regardless of person or party affiliation? Is there any penalty for the Registrar?

Is there anything you would like to add, to help me understand the matter?

Virginia voters are going to the polls right now for early voting. This election will determine the balance of power in both houses of the state legislature, and will fill every state and local office. More votes in the state will come from Fairfax County than any other county. If the County Registrar is administering elections unfairly, the integrity of the results is called into question. Again, why did Registrar Spicer accept obviously invalid petitions, and why has he ignored calls to follow the law? His action in this case raises a serious question about his impartiality and his ability to administer any elections fairly. This warrants an immediate investigation into Spicer’s office, and perhaps his immediate replacement with an unbiased temporary Registrar.

Whatever the failings of Spicer’s office, it falls now to the Electoral Board to do their job and invalidate this candidacy. She should never have been allowed on the ballot, and the only remedy is to declare her disqualified. There is no expectation of justice without the rule of law, and there is no rule of law if the law is applied unevenly. The Fairfax County Electoral Board must apply the law, fairly and evenly without regard to party or person.


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About Bart Marcois

Bart Marcois was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the George W. Bush administration. Marcois also served as a career foreign service officer with the State Department.

Photo: A woman fills in her ballot during the U.S. midterm elections at a polling station in Arlington, Virginia, the United States, Nov. 8, 2022. Concerned voters across the United States are going to the polls to cast their ballots in the 2022 midterm elections on Tuesday amid heightened partisanship and divide. (Photo by Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images)