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Electoral Board: Holmes can stay on Ward 3 School Board ballot
Fredericksburg’s Electoral Board decided this morning that Jannan Holmes should not be kept off the ballot for the Ward 3 School Board race because of misinformation she was given from the registrar’s office about who could circulate her petitions.
Here’s the official statement from the board:
“Board determined that one of the circulators of Jannan Holmes’ petition was not from Ward 3 but that the error was discovered after certification of the candidate. The Board determined that it does not affect the legitimacy of the candidate and certified that the candidate has the right to be on the ballot.
Signatures gathered after the deadline were not considered.”
This doesn’t mean the race is settled yet. The board was advised by the State Board of Elections not to keep Holmes off the ballot, but to give her the option to withdraw, since the person who signed the affidavit on her petitions could be prosecuted.
Holmes said she has not decided what to do yet. She has until tomorrow morning, when Electoral Board Secretary Amanda McGrady will order ballots for the May 4 election.
The board based its decision in part on advice from Martha Brissette, policy analyst for the State Board of Elections. Brissette cited past instances where what was termed a “technical failure” in the process of collecting petition signatures did not invalidate the signatures, and a Supreme Court case that called into question whether laws that dictate who can circulate petitions violate First Amendment rights. You can read Brissette’s e-mailed advice here.
All of the more than 125 signatures Holmes submitted were determined to be valid, and all but 17 of them were collected by a person eligible to circulate her petitions.
Janice Walsh, the Ward 3 School Board incumbent, attended the meeting, along with supporters who have been involved for a long time in city politics–her husband, Harvey Walsh, former City Councilman and schools superintendent Richard Garnett and Marguerite Young.
Garnett was the person who initially found that a Ward 2 resident had circulated one of Holmes’ petitions, after the registrar had already certified her as a candidate and missed that fact.
Garnett and Harvey Walsh both told the board that in their years working as candidates and for candidates, they had never thought the statement on the petitions about who can circulate them was confusing.
In the affidavit on the petitions, a circulator must affirm, among other things, that he or she “reside[s] and [is] registered, or eligible to be registered, in the district in which the candidate seeks office.”
George Foster, Holmes’ husband, who picked up her petitions from the registrar’s office, said it wasn’t clear to him that “district” meant the same thing as “ward.” He equated “district” with a Congressional district.
So he asked the staff in the registrar’s office, and was told that all that mattered was whether a circulator was eligible to be registered to vote in Fredericksburg.
Registrar Juanita Pitchford said she will make clear to her staff what the rules are so that a similar error doesn’t happen again.
“The way it reads, it could be confusing to anyone, ” she said. She added that Holmes’ petitions were turned in early enough on the March 2 deadline to file for candidacy that, had the registrar’s staff recognized the mistake and made Holmes or Foster aware of it, “she still would have had more time to circulate more petitions.”
Instead of pointing out the mistake, the office certified Holmes as a candidate, and the Electoral Board did not think that mistake should keep Holmes off the ballot.
Garnett said the decision could set a bad precedent. He said a lot of people don’t even know what ward they live in, and wondered if that kind of a technicality could allow a bending of the rules in the future.
“There is nothing dubious or unclear about that statement as far as I can see,” Garnett said. “If the Electoral Board is going to change the policy, it needs to be well-publicized.”
McGrady said the decision only concerns this particular case, and that the Electoral Board can’t change policy.
Janice Walsh said she had not made a decision yet about whether to take court action on the matter.
Read more in tomorrow’s Free Lance-Star.