RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Department of Elections must develop a contactless method to collect the required signatures to qualify for the statewide primary ballot by Feb. 5, a change that comes after two Democratic candidates sued election officials last month over COVID-19 concerns.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge David Eugene Cheek Sr. approved a finalized settlement Monday between two Virginia Democrats eyeing statewide office next year, Paul Goldman and Del. Lee Carter (D-Manassas), and state election officials.

Goldman, one of the many contenders in the race for lieutenant governor, and Carter, a state delegate running for governor, filed a lawsuit against the state’s election officials in December seeking to reduce the signature threshold to be on the ballot for the party’s June primary.

State law says prospective candidates for governor or lieutenant governor must gather at least 10,000 signatures, with at least 400 signatures from qualified voters in each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts, for their name to make it on the ballot.

The lawsuit from Carter and Goldman argued that having to collect 10,000 signatures during a potential coronavirus peak violated their First Amendment rights, asserting that having to adhere to the mandate amid the pandemic restricts candidates’ access to the state ballot, which in turn places a burden “on First Amendment political rights such as the right of association and free speech of voters.”

“Plaintiffs made a sufficiently strong showing on the merits of the claim, as shows in their complaint, to further support the fairness, adequacy, and reasonableness of this Consent Judgment and Decree,” the settlement said.

The finalized agreement drops those numbers to a minimum of 2,000 total signatures and at least 50 signatures from each district. It also mandates that the department create “a form to be used for petition circulation that permits a qualified petition signer to sign a candidate’s petition while not in the presence of a petition circulator.”

The petition signer must provide the following information on the form:

  • Affirmation that they are who they say they are
  • Affirmation they are a resident of their jurisdiction, including a statement of their address
  • The last four digits of their social security number

Those who sign a petition will then transmit the form “either by mail or electronically” to the candidate or their campaign. A spokesperson for the department did not immediately respond to 8News’ request seeking comment.

Despite the settlement, a hearing will be set before March 25 for the remaining arguments in the complaint. Del. Carter voluntarily requested to be dismissed from the lawsuit after the agreement was finalized.

“We started from the premise that political campaigns should not be required to expose people to COVID-19, and the Department of Elections and the court both agreed,” Carter wrote on Twitter.

“This is a big win that will absolutely save lives.”