Ballots Cast For Fairfax County School Board Candidate Thrown Out

FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA — Voters in the Franconia District of Fairfax County who voted early and cast their ballot for one of the two candidates for school board will have their votes thrown out due to a judge’s decision that forced elections officials to disqualify the candidate from the ballot.

The voters will not get a chance to vote again in the school board race, even though the ballots they used had been certified by Fairfax County elections officials in early March, long before the start of early voting on Sept. 22.

Late Wednesday, less than two weeks before the Nov. 7 general election, Marcia St. John-Cunning, the Democratic-endorsed candidate for the Franconia District seat on the Fairfax County School Board, was disqualified after the Eighth Congressional District Republican Committee filed a complaint against Fairfax County General Registrar and Director of Elections Eric Spicer for not invalidating a page of St. John-Cunning’s ballot petition.

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The decision to disqualify St. John-Cunning was based on a decision issued Wednesday by Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Richard Gardiner, who ruled in favor of the Republicans that St. John-Cunning’s ballot petition was invalid for not correctly placing her address on one page of the petition. With the signatures on that page invalidated, St. John-Cunning no longer had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

St. John-Cunning is facing off against Republican endorsee Kevin Pinkney in the general election. Tamara Derenak Kaufax, the three-term Franconia District representative on the school board, announced earlier this year that she would not be seeking re-election.

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According to St. John-Cunning’s campaign, more than 3,000 Franconia District registered voters had cast their ballots as of Oct. 25, when the judge ruled that signatures on the one page were invalid. The page with a wrong address for St. John-Cunning was simply a “typo” and “an immaterial technicality on her paperwork,” her campaign said.

The Fairfax County Democratic Committee said it has not heard from Spicer’s office about whether he intends to appeal the decision to disqualify St. John-Cunning’s name from the ballot.

READ ALSO: Franconia District Candidate Disqualified From School Board Election

“We are reaching out to disenfranchised voters and asking them to send letters and emails to the General Registrar and Electoral board members asking them to appeal the decision,” Dominic Thompson, executive director of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, said in an email to Patch.

A lawyer for the Eighth Congressional District Republican Committee, which filed the complaint challenging the registrar’s approval of St. John-Cunning’s ballot petition, welcomed the judge’s ruling on Wednesday.

“We are pleased that the court recognized that the Election Registrar failed to perform his obligation of ensuring that ballot petitions comply with the plain letter of the law,” Trey Mayfield, an attorney for the Eighth Congressional District Republican Committee, said in a statement. “The ballot petition page in question, which Ms. St. John-Cunning herself signed and swore under penalty of law was correct, had a made-up, imaginary address. The law requires that ballot petitions must state the candidate’s address, or the petition is invalid.”

At a news conference on Thursday, a resident of the Franconia District who participated in early voting and voted for St. John-Cunning said that “to know that my early vote, the vote that I made a strong effort to come out and take,” was thrown out by election officials “is just to me shocking and offensive.”

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay, a Democrat, called on Spicer “to immediately appeal the decision that was made” to remove St. John-Cunning from the ballot.

“This is pure, straightforward voter disenfranchisement,” McKay said. “There are thousands of people who have voted in this election already … and it’s absolutely unprecedented in the midst of an election to disqualify a candidate who did everything that she was supposed to do going through the process, including having the registrar certify her in Fairfax County.”

Every legal means needs to be explored by voters in the Franconia District who already voted for St. John-Cunning, McKay said. “I don’t know how you couldn’t when something like this happens,” he added.

At the news conference, St. John-Cunning said she will continue running for Franconia District school board member and asked voters to write in her name on the ballot.

“Although last night we were advised that my name was disqualified, I am going to keep running because I am passionate about what I do and what I’ve been doing for the past 25 years,” said St. John-Cunning, who currently serves as the community school coordinator at Mt. Vernon Woods Elementary School in Fairfax County.

St. John-Cunning said at the news conference that Franconia District residents’ votes do matter. “You’re just going to have to work a little bit harder,” she said. “I hope you have great penmanship because they will be checking to make sure my name is written correctly.”

For voters who have yet to cast a ballot in the Franconia District and wish to vote for St. John-Cunning, Thompson said voters should not check off the box next to St. John-Cunning’s name on the ballot. Instead, they should check off the box next to “write-in” and then write in her name.

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