The shoe is on the other foot now that Republicans are challenging Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign because of paperwork errors in his statement of intention to run.
The party wants a court to invalidate McAuliffe’s candidacy.
But when Republicans Bob Good in the 5th Congressional District and Nick Freitas in the 7th ran into campaign paperwork problems last year, the party wanted leniency.
The Republican Party of Virginia filed suit last week saying McAuliffe’s candidacy should be invalidated because he did not sign a required form.
As The Associated Press reports: “The formal ‘declaration of candidacy’ McAuliffe submitted to the state’s board of elections to enter the Democratic primary in March is indeed missing his signature — the box he was supposed to sign was left blank, along with lines asking for his phone numbers — though two witnesses’ signatures were included on the form.”
Signature or not, McAuliffe’s intention to run is patently clear. He’s been campaigning since December, first for the Democratic nomination, which he won, and now for a return trip to the Executive Mansion. McAuliffe previously served as governor 2014-18.
“I predict that this lawsuit will fail,” Michael Gilbert, vice dean of the University of Virginia School of Law, told The Associated Press. “The violation is harmless, and the remedy sought … is extreme.”
Invalidating the candidacy would, in effect, deprive voters of a fair choice in a democratic election (emphasis on the small d). It’s unlikely that Democrats (big d) could find an effective replacement on short notice, and whoever they did find would be at a competitive disadvantage in starting the race late.
As Gilbert said, it’s hard to see how this upheaval would actually serve the cause of democracy.
That’s not to say the error should be completely ignored — at least, not by voters.
Voters will have to decide whether this error by McAuliffe is immaterial, or whether it should be taken more seriously as part of a pattern of free-wheeling inattention to detail.
Readers might remember his mass restoration of voting rights, which — despite admirable intentions — was undertaken in contradiction to the state constitution, according to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Or his book about the events of Aug. 12, 2017, which several sources criticized as containing important inaccuracies.
That’s not to say that Republicans aren’t afflicted with carelessness, too.
Readers should recall that Good and Freitas were among eight candidates in last year’s elections who didn’t get their paperwork in on time. The State Board of Elections gave filing extensions to all the candidates.
That was even though Freitas already had made the same mistake previously and had been disqualified from appearing on the ballot. Instead, he ran a successful write-in campaign.
On the 2020 filing, Republican lawyers argued that the deadlines were confusing because of some adjustments ordered by Gov. Ralph Northam because of COVID.
Democrats countered that the candidates were “negligent” and ought not be granted extensions.
Of course, some Democrats missed the deadline, too. And the elections board chairman said he couldn’t in good conscience grant extensions to some candidates and not to all.
Chairman Bob Brink also cited the argument made by Gilbert in the current case: Keeping candidates off the ballot would reduce competition in the election and compromise democracy.
“Doing that would run counter to my personal belief that as much as possible we ought to permit access to the ballot and let the voters decide,” he said in The Virginia Mercury.
It’s too much to expect that Democrats and Republicans would be consistent on these issues. They’re too busy protecting their turf.
But Virginia’s election and court officials have taken more reasonable stands — and likely will again.