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Franconia District school board candidate back on ballot after disqualification

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

(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) Marcia St. John-Cunning no longer needs to run as a write-in candidate to become the Franconia District’s next school board representative.

The former Fairfax County Public Schools interpreter and family liaison re-qualified for the general election ballot yesterday (Wednesday) after a county judge let her submit two more pages of signatures supporting her petition for candidacy.

Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Richard Gardiner told Fairfax County General Registrar Eric Spicer to accept the 17 signatures “as if [they were] filed with the registrar in March 2023,” according to the order shared on Twitter shared by Bryan Grahm, chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, which has endorsed Marcia St. John-Cunning.

The Fairfax County Office of Elections confirmed her reinstated candidacy with a notice on its website. A spokesperson said the general registrar had no comment beyond that notice.

“We are pleased by today’s order and elated to see her reinstated as a qualified candidate for School Board,” Graham said in a statement last night. “Marcia St. John-Cunning is an exemplary candidate who has worked in our local schools and knows the families of Franconia. The Fairfax County Democratic Committee will be using the next week to ensure Marcia wins this election.”

St. John-Cunning is competing against Republican-endorsed candidate Kevin Pinkney to succeed current Franconia District Representative Tamara Derenak-Kaufax, who is retiring after 12 years on the Fairfax County School Board.

Though she obtained the Democratic endorsement without contest, St. John-Cunning faced two legal challenges by Republicans who argued that petition errors should’ve stopped Fairfax County General Registrar Eric Spicer from certifying her candidacy. A September lawsuit by the Fairfax County Republican Committee that took issue with the lack of dates by some signatures was dismissed.

However, a complaint filed by the 8th Congressional District Republican Committee and two voters in that district found traction with Gardiner, who ruled on Oct. 25 that 11 of St. John-Cunning’s submitted signatures were invalid because her address was wrong on one page of her petition.

The invalidation of those signatures left St. John-Cunning short of the 125 needed to qualify.

St. John-Cunning called the ruling “unprecedented” in an announcement on Saturday (Oct. 28) that she would run as a write-in candidate. With early voting underway since Sept. 22, more than 3,000 Franconia District voters had already cast a ballot, her campaign said.

According to the FCDC, St. John-Cunning’s legal team argued in court yesterday that the signatures should’ve been challenged before the filing deadline on Aug. 18, noting that she had gotten more signatures but didn’t submit them because the registrar said they weren’t necessary to qualify. Her candidacy was originally certified back on March 7.

In a statement, St. John-Cunning called Gardiner’s reinstatement of her candidacy “justice for the 3,000 residents who already exercised their constitutional right to vote.”

“The will of the people is democracy, and today democracy wins,” she said. “This should be a wakeup call. The amount of money and resources the Republicans put into this school board race illustrates their strategy to reframe the Fairfax County School Board. Their tactics of disenfranchisement and confusion didn’t happen in Tennessee or Georgia. They happened in our backyard.”

The Fairfax GOP didn’t directly address Gardiner’s latest ruling, but Vice Chair Nick Andersen argued that the lawsuits reflect a lack of attention to detail by St. John-Cunning compared to Pinkney, a lawyer and parent of FCPS students who he said would “bring much-needed balance” to the school board.

“In contrast to his opponent, Kevin has consistently demonstrated his seriousness and attention to detail in the conduct of his campaign,” Andersen said in a statement to FFXnow. “This recent series of events has shown that parents and taxpayers cannot afford four years of Marcia St. John-Cunning’s incompetence on the board.”

The FCDC said it will continue fighting “to ensure that all votes, including the write-in votes during the last week, are counted.”

With Election Day coming next Tuesday, Nov. 7, in-person early voting in the general election will conclude at 5 p.m. this Saturday (Nov. 4). All 12 school board seats are on the ballot, along with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Commonwealth’s Attorney, sheriff, court clerk and Virginia General Assembly.

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