SJC cuts in half the number of signatures candidates need for a spot on primary ballot

Jovan Lacet: Decision is "not fair"

The Supreme Judicial Court last week halved the number of voter signatures candidates need to qualify for a place on the ballot in the Sept. 1 primary election. The high court’s decision also gave those running for district or county offices an extra eight days – from April 28 to May 5 – to gather and file their names.

The decision, handed down by Chief Justice Ralph Gants last Friday, was hailed by those who said that the constraints of physical distancing measures during the coronavirus crisis put an unfair burden on their efforts to get the signatures.

The court’s move evoked reaction from four likely candidates for the 12th Suffolk District seat being vacated by state Rep. Dan Cullinane. In order to qualify for a spot on the primary ballot, a candidate now has until May 5 to get the 75 (down from 150) certified signatures he or she needs.

Stephanie Everett, Cameron Charbonnier, Brandy Fluker-Oakley, and Jovan Lacet have all indicated that they will seek to run as Democrats.

Lacet, who has run unsuccessfully for the seat in the last two cycles, called the SJC decision unfair. He told the Reporter on Monday that he already collected well in excess of 150 signatures in February and March, before coronavirus restrictions began.

“I want to thank the 500 plus people who signed my nomination papers. I’ve been a certified candidate on the ballot since March 11,” Lacet said in a phone call.

He said the ruling is “not fair to the process. It creates the position where people don’t have to earn it. I can understand it for folks who need 1,000 or 2,000 signatures, but for 150? C’mon.”

He added: “If you truly represent the people this is the kind of work that should have been done in advance. Most people got their signatures in by the first week of March.”

Everett, a Mattapan-based attorney who made her plans to run for the 12th Suffolk seat official last week, called the SJC decision “essential” to safely collecting signatures.

“I am pleased with the ruling,” Everett said. “The extra time is really essential to our strategy for safely collecting signatures-- dropping off and mailing out nomination sheets so people can fill them out safely at home and send them back. We are exploring the use of electronic signatures as well.”

Charbonnier, a Dorchester resident and a longtime aide to Mayor Walsh, said on Monday that he submitted his first round of signatures a few days before the ruling last week.

“The city does not formally certify what I’ve submitted until later this week, so I am still gathering signatures in adherence to all the physical distancing guidelines and will do so until the city and the Secretary of State’s office certifies my position on the ballot,” he said.

“Still, I support the goal of this ruling. I know firsthand the difficulty of safely gathering signatures in this climate and anything that prevents these circumstances from diminishing equitable access to our democracy is a good thing.”

Fluker-Oakley, a Mattapan attorney, said the ruling is important.

“During these unprecedented times, ballot access and voter participation are more critical than ever. The SJC’s ruling was important in ensuring that our political process can continue to work in a way that protects the health and safety of our residents.”

In order to meet their reduced requirements, the court said, candidates can scan and post their nomination papers online for voters to print or download the image and either apply an electronic signature with a computer mouse or stylus, or sign the printed version, and return the form electronically or by mail.

Gants’s ruling was issued one day after the court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit brought by three candidates running for office. The state Senate passed a bill last Thursday to reduce the requirement by 50 percent for all candidates needing 1,000 or more signatures. But the bill was not taken up in the House of Representatives before the court made its decision.

Gants noted the inaction by the full Legislature. “Here, where the filing deadline for nomination papers fast approaches, and the Legislature has yet to take decisive action, we have little choice but to provide equitable relief,” he wrote.

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