In Virginia, elected politicians can, in theory, be removed from office for various reasons including criminal convictions, neglect of duty, misuse of office or incompetence. Virginia Code Sections 24.2-233 and 235 govern this issue. They require that a petition be signed by voters encompassing at least 10% of the number of votes cast in the prior election for that office. In reality, a recent Virginia Supreme Court decision has eviscerated these statutes.
In 1989, the Virginia Attorney General published the opinion that the only signatures requiring notarization are those of the persons collecting voter signatures. In 2018, the Virginia Supreme Court disagreed with that opinion, ruling that every one of the voter signatures must be notarized. This decision essentially renders elected politicians in Virginia immune from removal by voters. See Commonwealth of Virginia v. Erica W. Williams, 295 Va. 90, 809 S.E. 2d 672 (2018).
During the last legislative session, Senators Scott Surovell and Adam Ebbin and Delegate Paul Krizek held a town meeting at Walt Whitman Middle School. When it was my turn to speak, I brought this issue to the attention of these politicians noting that it is not a Constitutional issue but rather one that only requires a legislative fix. They expressed their unawareness that this had occurred and explained that they could not initiate the fix during that legislative session because internal rules of the General Assembly limit the number of bills each one can propose, and each of these politicians had already submitted their full limit. They all pledged to address and resolve this issue in the next legislative session.
I am submitting this letter to the Gazette at this time merely to get a head start on the decision making process these politicians employ to decide which bills they will propose in filling up their quotas. Since each of them pledged to take appropriate action to fix this problem during the next legislative session, this letter is intended, during the current election season, to remind them of and hold them to that pledge. The appropriate fix is to clarify these statutes to make clear that the only signatures that need be notarized are those of the persons collecting voter signatures, verifying under oath that they indeed verified the identities of voters signing the petition.
H. Jay Spiegel