Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe failed to sign paperwork to declare his candidacy; the GOP is using the issue to try to disqualify McAuliffe. That outcome is possible but unlikely, according to former Virginia Democratic Chairman Paul Goldman. Goldman is focused on the date the paperwork was filed — March 8. That day, at noon, was the first day candidates could file for the Democratic primary, and the first candidate to file gets to be listed first on the ballot.

“He and his campaign knew that Jennifer Foy and Jennifer McClellan would file at noon on the 8th. If he didn’t file at noon on the 8th, then the best he could be was third on the ballot. In fact, he had no reason to assume everybody wasn’t going to file. So, if he didn’t file he might have thought he’d be last on the ballot,” Goldman said.

He speculated that for some reason the campaign team couldn’t get McAuliffe to sign the papers on the hectic morning of March 8.

“I think what they [thought] was, ‘If we don’t file, we can’t be first on the ballot,’ You’ve got to file petitions and the declarations of candidacy at same time. So if you didn’t file you couldn’t be first on the ballot. So the decision was made for whatever reason, ‘We’ll file it, we’ll file what we’ve got. We’ll type it up, get it signed, and filed.’ That is consistent with the facts,” Goldman said.

Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and former Delegate Jennifer Carrol Foy (D-Prince William) did file that day, so a drawing was held to determine who would top the ballot. McAuliffe won.

Goldman thinks McAuliffe defeated his opponents by a big enough margin that the result of the primary isn’t really in doubt.

But he said, “He did have an unfair advantage, apparently, in the primary. He didn’t deserve the top spot. That’s a fact. I’m a political scientist. He got an advantage to have the top spot, that he shouldn’t have had. The two Jennifers, they were disadvantaged, absolutely, nobody can deny it. And the same for Lee Carter and Justin [Fairfax] but they ran poorly.”

In 2019, Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) was forced to run a write-in campaign for delegate after missing a paperwork deadline. A year later, he missed a paperwork deadline for his run for Congress, but that time, the Board of Elections, composed of two Democrats and one Republican, granted him and other candidates extensions. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sued to challenge the extension, but a judge upheld the board’s authority to be lenient.

Republicans are saying that McAuliffe’s failure to sign his paperwork is essentially the same, and he should be disqualified.

“He didn’t make the deadline. I would think no signature from the actual candidate combined with two other people apparently making a false statement on an official document would constitute not getting your paperwork in on time. Unless of course it is now acceptable to send it in without properly filling it out,” Freitas told The Virginia Star. “At a time when both sides of the aisle have questioned electoral fairness and equality before the law, it will be interesting to watch what the Democrat-controlled electoral board does in this instance.”

GOP candidate for the 83rd House of Delegates district Tim Anderson applauded the lawsuit.

The basis of the suit is the Declaration of Candidacy was not signed – even though it was witnessed by two voters who purportedly witnessed the signature. Obviously the ‘witnesses’ signed the document in advance of the document be signed. Not only should the relief be granted, ‘the witnesses’ have some explaining to do,” he said on Facebook. “Great job RPV for scrutinizing the candidate papers. Republicans are in it to win it this year.”

According to Goldman, there’s a few ways things can go. If Republicans are lucky, a judge might remove McAuliffe completely from the ballot. That’s unlikely since voters did express their desire to nominate McAuliffe, so removing him would be disenfranchising those voters. He said that there were better options than risk removal from the ballot. For example, he said McAuliffe could withdraw and the Democratic Party of Virginia could ask him to come back.

But another scenario is that the judge asks for more information — conceivably forcing McAuliffe and his staff to testify about the missing signature.

“The last thing you want is a judge or somebody to say, ‘Well, let’s hold some depositions,’ for some judge to say, ‘You know, before I decide the case, I want more facts as to how this mistake happened.’ Well, you’re going to have to put under oath a bunch of people,” Goldman said.

The McAuliffe campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Communications Director Christina Freundlich said in a tweet, “Our campaign submitted the required paperwork.”

Freundlich called the lawsuit a “desperate Trumpian move.”

But Goldman said that although the code of Virginia is vague about whether or not a signature is needed on the paperwork, the board of elections was clear that the paperwork needed to be signed. He said that in a lawsuit, a court would likely support the Board of Election’s authority to issue that requirement.

Republican incompetence is one of the things saving the Democrats in this situation, Goldman said, but he wouldn’t say what Republicans should be doing because he didn’t want to give them advice. He did have advice for McAuliffe: “I’ve recommended to people, admit your mistake, it’s no big deal.”

Goldman said overall, this is a small problem. “It’s embarrassing perhaps, but so what. It’s only when you keep denying, denying, denying.”

“You’re stuck with a situation where he didn’t file, it put him first on the ballot which he didn’t deserve, against two African American candidates, and now it’s come out,” Goldman said. “If this had come out earlier, they probably could have given him an extension, and he would have cured it, but it turns out he didn’t. So you now have this whole thing where it looks like a double standard, he didn’t sign, now he’s telling his people to say he didn’t have to sign. You’re getting into an argument that voting is fraught with problems.”

Goldman said, “If I’m the Democrats looking at this, [I’m thinking] ‘Thank goodness they got a bunch of bozos, lawyers on the other side.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Terry McAuliffe” by Terry McAuliffe.