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It seems that the plot is thickening in my home state of Virginia where five of the major GOP candidates have been excluded from the primary ballot due to a lack of valid petition signatures. Many have been asking how these campaigns could be so ill-prepared in gaining ballot access in a state which holds 10% of the Super Tuesday delegates. With some further digging, it appears we’re now getting answers as to why only Ron Paul and Mitt Romney made the cut and will appear on the March 6 Virgnia primary ballot.

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The simple explanation for the disqualification of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich has to do with a rule change in October 2011 by the Republican Party of Virginia. Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman all fell short of the 10,000 required signatures so they likely would have been denied ballot access regardless of the rule change.

The report from Big Government:

What has not been reported is that in the only other presidential primaries in which Virginia required 10,000 signatures (2000, 2004, and 2008) the signatures were not checked. Any candidate who submitted at least 10,000 raw signatures was put on the ballot. In 2000, five Republicans qualified: George Bush, John McCain, Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer, and Steve Forbes. In 2004 there was no Republican primary in Virginia. In 2008, seven Republicans qualified: John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Alan Keyes.

The only reason the Virginia Republican Party checked the signatures for validity for the current primary is that in October 2011, an independent candidate for the legislature, Michael Osborne, sued the Virginia Republican Party because it did not check petitions for its own members, when they submitted primary petitions. Osborne had no trouble getting the needed 125 valid signatures for his own independent candidacy, but he charged that his Republican opponent’s primary petition had never been checked, and that if it had been, that opponent would not have qualified.

The lawsuit, Osborne v Boyles, cl 11-520-00, was filed in Bristol County Circuit Court. It was filed too late to be heard before the election, but is still pending. The effect of the lawsuit was to persuade the Republican Party to start checking petitions. If the Republican Party had not changed that policy, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry would be on the 2012 ballot.

The bold emphasis was added by me. In 2000 and 2008, stunningly, there was no checking of the 10,000 required signatures which meant anyone who turned in 10,000 signatures was granted ballot access regardless of whether how many might have been duplicates or from non-registered Virginia voters.

As a result, Rick Perry has decided to bring this issue to Federal Court launching a lawsuit today. Report from Fox News:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign announced Tuesday it will file a lawsuit in an attempt to get on the ballot for Virginia’s Republican presidential primary.

Perry failed to qualify for the ballot after the Republican Party of Virginia said his campaign had not filed the required 10,000 signatures.

“Virginia ballot access rules are among the most onerous and are particularly problematic in a multi-candidate election,” Perry campaign communications director Ray Sullivan said in a statement published by National Journal.

“We believe that the Virginia provisions unconstitutionally restrict the rights of candidates and voters by severely restricting access to the ballot, and we hope to have those provisions overturned or modified to provide greater ballot access to Virginia voters and the candidates seeking to earn their support.”

The state requires candidates to submit petitions with 10,000 signatures from registered Virginia voters with 400 signatures from voters in each of its eleven congressional districts.

Perry’s campaign said it submitted 11,911 signatures for verification.

In the statement announcing the legal challenge, Perry’s campaign said only 119,034 Virginians voted in the 2008 Republican primary, making the requirement of 10,000 signatures “unrealistic and onerous.”

I highly doubt Perry’s lawsuit will gain anything prior to the March 6, 2012 primary date, however, he might succeed in bringing the issue to light and possibly forcing some kind of change down the road. Though for a candidate who champions states’ rights, a lawsuit in Federal Court to change state primary rules might not lend itself to that position.

Update

It now appears that campaigns were given ample notice of the requirements to gain access to the Virginia primary ballot. See this notice from the Virginia State Board of Elections which clearly lays out the following regarding petition signature guidelines. Apparently the campaigns knew as early as March 2011 of these requirements.

Must be signed by not less than 10,000 qualified voters in Virginia, including at least 400 qualified voters from each of Virginia=s eleven congressional districts, who attest that they intend to participate in the primary of the same political party as the candidate named on the petition.

Because many people who are not registered to vote will sign a petition, it is recommended that 15,000 – 20,000 signatures be obtained with at least 700 signatures from each congressional district.

Source: Deadlines, Duties and Ballot Access Requirements

The 10,000 signature requirement comes directly from Virginia law in subsection 24.2-506.

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Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.

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