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Judge disqualifies Franconia District school board candidate over ballot paperwork

Franconia District school board candidate Marcia St. John-Cunning (courtesy Marcia4Schools)

(Updated at 11:10 a.m. on 10/30/2023) The Democratic-endorsed candidate for the Fairfax County School Board’s Franconia District seat has been disqualified due to an error on her petition to get on the ballot.

The Fairfax County Office of Elections has posted a notice on its website informing voters that Marcia St. John-Cunning was disqualified yesterday (Wednesday) by a Fairfax County Circuit Court order. A judge ruled that her petition was invalid because of an error in her address on its front page.

St. John-Cunning, a former Fairfax County Public Schools interpreter and family liaison, is competing against Republican-endorsed Kevin Pinkney, a lawyer, to succeed Tamara Derenak-Kaufax, who announced in January that she wouldn’t seek reelection after 12 years on the school board.

(Correction: The spelling of Kevin Pinkney’s name has been fixed.)

Though the school board races are nonpartisan, candidates can get political party endorsements. The Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) allowed registered members to vote for its endorsements for the first time this year, though St. John-Cunning’s bid for support in the Franconia District was uncontested.

The complaint that led to St. John-Cunning’s disqualification was filed by the 8th Congressional District Republican Committee and two voters in that district, who argued that Fairfax County General Registrar and Director of Elections Eric Spicer should’ve invalidated her ballot petition over the address error, Patch reported.

Judge Richard Gardiner ruled that Spicer “violated his non-discretionary ministerial duty” by not invalidating the seventh page of St. John-Cunning’s petition, according to his order.

“The pages denoted as ‘4’ in the lower right corner does not have her address on the front page,” the order said. “Therefore, this petition page and the signatures on the front and back page are invalid as a matter of law.”

Eleven signatures were deemed invalid, putting St. John-Cunning below the 125 signatures needed to get on the ballot, according to Patch.

A previous lawsuit that took issue with six signatures on her petition was dismissed.

The Fairfax County Republican Committee and an attorney for the plaintiffs praised Gardiner’s ruling as “a clear victory for the rule of law.”

“The public’s confidence in the integrity of our elections depends on the law being applied consistently to all candidates, regardless of party or position,” the attorney, Trey Mayfield, said. “It is the duty of Election Registrar and County Electoral Board to ensure that elections are managed with uniform, law-based standards. They should do so without the courts having to order them to perform those obligations.”

The FCDC, however, blasted Gardiner and the Virginia Department of Elections for disqualifying its supported candidate, stating that the ruling disenfranchises the over 3,000 Franconia District voters who’ve cast a ballot since early voting for the Nov. 7 general election began on Sept. 22.

“This decision to disenfranchise voters in the middle of an election is outrageous,” FCDC Chair Bryan Graham said in a statement. “The case brought by the Eighth Congressional District Republican Committee to undermine our democratic process is disgusting, and the confusion caused by the decision will be catastrophic. The Republican party of today is one that knows their policies on defunding public education, banning books, and bullying children means they can not win fair elections in Fairfax County.”

The FCDC said its Franconia District committee will conduct “an aggressive write-in campaign” on St. John-Cunning’s behalf.

“The Fairfax County Democratic Committee will not allow Republicans to steal the school board election in Franconia,” Graham said. “We will fight for Marcia St. John-Cunning and I am confident she will be the next FCPS School Board member from Franconia district.”

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and Fairfax Education Association, unions that represent FCPS employees, also expressed continued support for St. John-Cunning’s candidacy, urging members to cast write-in votes for her.

“We want to emphasize that Marcia will be a strong advocate for students, educators, and the community,” FCFT President David Walrod said. “Marcia has the full support of FCFT and we look forward to seeing her elected.”

St. John-Cunning and Pinkney didn’t immediately return requests for comment, but Fairfax GOP Vice Chair for Operations Nick Andersen argued that the controversy illustrates Pinkney’s strength as a candidate.

“Kevin’s level of care and attention to detail with his own campaign shows the distinct difference between a candidate of his caliber and the Fairfax County Democratic Committee’s apparent standard for service in elected office,” Andersen said.

St. John-Cunning was expected to speak at a press conference hosted by the FCDC outside the Franconia Governmental Center (6121 Franconia Road) at 5 p.m. today (Thursday).

All 12 school board seats are on the ballot this year. The county expanded in-person early voting to 13 more sites today that will remain operational through Nov. 4.