Rick Perry is right about Virginia

Perry

Rick Perry right about Virginia

Rick Perry is right. Virginia’s rules for gathering signatures to get a candidate on the ballot in Virginia violate the U.S. Constitution.

Quick run-down on the rules:

  • Virginia law recognizes only the Republican and Democratic parties as parties
  • Any presidential candidate who wants to appear on the ballot in the March 6 primary must gather 10,000 signatures of registered voters
  • At least 400 signatures must come from each of the 11 congressional districts
  • The signatures can be gathered only by people who themselves live in Virginia
  • The primary election does not allow write-ins

State GOP party chairman Pat Mullins reiterated the above on the party web site:

 “Under the Code of Virginia, any candidate who wants to have their name placed on the March 6, 2012 Republican Presidential Ballot or the June 12, 2012 U.S. Senate Primary must collect the signatures of 10,000 registered voters statewide, with at least 400 signatures of registered voters from each of Virginia’s 11 Congressional districts.”

Mullins’ statement omits that kicker about signature gatherers having to be from Virginia.

The upshot for 2012, as everyone knows, is that well-funded Texas Governor Rick Perry, Virginia resident and U.S. history consultant Newt Gingrich, and three other Republicans failed to get their names on the ballot in Virginia. Perry did not get enough signatures; Gingrich collected more than 11,000 signatures but had many invalidated by state GOP officials, who hate him; and candidates Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum did not even file to get on the ballot in Virginia. Thus as of now only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are eligible to compete for Virginia’s 50 delegates on March 6.

It’s a Schadenfreudefest.

Signs of the times

Ironies abound.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the rules for getting on the ballot are left to the states, and there is no national standard for state ballot access. Legislation to limit how far states could on restricting ballot access was repeatedly introduced by Rep. Ron Paul, but without success. Paul, again, is the only candidate besides Romney whose presidential campaign organization succeeded in getting him onto the ballot in Virginia for 2012.

Paul’s campaign still had to jump through extra hoops. As the statement of rules issued by GOP state party chairman Pat Mullins continues,

“Any candidate who submits at least 15,000 signatures of registered voters on valid petitions statewide and has at least 600 signatures of registered voters on valid petitions from each of the 11 Congressional Districts shall be deemed to have met the threshold for qualification and will be certified (provided, of course, that other requirements of State law have also been met).”

Romney’s campaign turned in more than 15,000 votes, as the somewhat defensive statement issued by the Republican Party of Virginia notes. Thus Romney’s petition was adjudged valid on its face under the rules. As the RPV puts it,

any candidate who submitted over 15,000 facially-valid signatures would be presumed to be in compliance with Virginia‘s 10,000 signature law.”

 [boldface in original statement]

Ron Paul’s signatures, au contraire, went through a round of vetting:

“Rep. Ron Paul submitted just under 15,000, and was submitted to signature-by-signature scrutiny on the same basis as the other candidates who submitted fewer than 15,000 signatures. After more than 7 hours of work, RPV determined that Rep. Paul had cleared the statutory 10,000/400 signature standard with ease.”

The RPV situation deserves more attention than it has gotten. Admittedly, a primary pageant featuring Herman Cain, Sarah Palin, Rick man-on-dog Santorum, Donald Trump and the rest tends to suck up oxygen that might otherwise go to constitutional questions. Then we got Perry’s televised gaffes. Then Newt Gingrich inveighing against money, negative advertising and lying in politics. Now the prominent alternative to Romney seems to be Santorum, who is also trying to whittle Gingrich down to size. With this kind of air show on television, it is often difficult to turn to reading.

That said, the RPV statement is still an act of epic folly.

Back to Ole Virginny, and we don’t mean to asperse Scandinavians

Virginia Republicans adopted the new rules in October 2011, obviously to prep for the 2012 election. The rules overwhelmingly benefit Mitt Romney and were undoubtedly crafted to enhance Romney as the inevitable nominee. (Romney advisor/strategist Stuart Stevens, a Mississippi native, is among Romney supporters based in Virginia.) The RPV itself clearly knows that the restrictions are, as Perry’s legal challenge says, onerous:

“From the earliest days of the campaigns, RPV has actively told candidates that Virginia’s signature requirements could be a difficult legal requirement to meet for those who were new to Virginia politics.”

The rationale for restricting ballot access is protecting the integrity of elections. Yet the Virginia rules give a pass to exactly those most liable to jeopardize election integrity, namely the biggest and best-funded campaigns. This is not to suggest that Romney’s signatures are fraudulent. But the rule exempts the biggest list of signatures from any checking at all. RPV defensiveness suggests that the RPV itself recognizes this exemption as questionable:

“The presumption of compliance was set at 15,000 for a variety of reasons.

First, in the party’s long experience with petitions, RPV has never encountered a situation where a candidate who submitted 15,000 signatures has failed to make the ballot (absent cases of obvious fraud).

Second, Virginia’s State Board of Elections advises candidates to collect 15,000 or more signatures to be safe, based on their long experience with average failure rates.

Third, RPV adopted the 15,000-signature presumption because the Party wants all of its candidates to qualify for the ballot. The 15,000-signature presumption served as an incentive for candidates to comply with the law with a safe margin of signatures.

Fourth, under Virginia law, RPV’s Chairman is assigned a profound legal obligation to ensure that each candidate has met Virginia’s legal requirements. The Party was afforded under Virginia law only 5 days over Christmas to review ballot petitions and signatures. The 15,000-signature presumption was intended to assist the RPV Chairman in meeting his legal obligations in an efficient process that would run quickly while providing the Party and the Commonwealth assurances of legal compliance based upon mathmatical [sic] experience.” 

Since the state GOP (clearly) knew that the restrictions were onerous, furthermore,

RPV officials encouraged candidates repeatedly, through both counsel and field staff, to submit 15,000 or more signatures in an abundance of caution, so that they would meet the legal requirements. 

Candidates were officially informed of the 15,000 rule in October 2011, well in advance of the Dec. 22 submission deadline. The rule was no surprise to any candidate – and indeed, no candidate or campaign offered any complaints until after the Dec. 23 validation process had concluded.

Despite this early notice and RPV’s exhortations to candidates, only one candidate availed himself of the 15,000 signature threshold – Governor Mitt Romney. RPV counted Governor Romney’s signatures, reviewed them for facial validity, and determined he submitted well over 15,000. Never in the party’s history has a candidate who submitted more than 15,000 signatures had 33 percent invalidated. The party is confident that Governor Romney met the statutory threshold.”

Romney gets to pass Go.

Briefly, the other couple of oddities:

As mentioned, the signature gatherers must live in Virginia. No other state has that requirement, which would seem to increase local control over any signature gathering.

No other state requires major parties to spread the signatures around among congressional districts, either. A few states do set that bar for new political parties, or for nonaffiliated candidates:

  • Louisiana requires 500 signatures from each district–OR a fee of $500 instead of signatures.
  • New York requires signatures from a majority of the state’s districts, for candidates from a non-established party.
  • North Carolina requires 200 signatures from at least four districts, for a new political party or for a nonaffiliated candidate.

But only the Virginia GOP brought you that rule that even the Democratic and the Republican parties, established parties, have to spread their signatures around among every congressional district. The rule effectively prevents any college town from harvesting enough signatures to put, say, Ron Paul on the ballot with ease. Further smoothed the path, in October 2011, for Romney.

On Jan. 3, after the Iowa caucuses, Perry was going to reassess his campaign, going home to Texas instead of to South Carolina.

On Jan. 4, Perry tweeted On to South Carolina.

Presumably, staying in the race keeps Perry’s lawsuit in Virginia from becoming moot or from being dismissed for lack of standing.

If so, Perry’s staying in the race a while longer will benefit the citizenry–not for the Machiavellian reason of dividing the field against Romney, but because Virginia’s rules are genuinely weird. One step farther, and the Virginia GOP, entrenched in the state government, would be able to make only one party legal in the Old Dominion.

Briefs in the case are due today (Friday Jan. 6).

Some local back-and-forth has occurred since Perry filed his lawsuit. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was so appalled by the consequences for Virginia’s primary that he initially said he would consider changing the rules for the year. Cuccinelli has announced that he will run for governor in 2013 in Virginia (where elections are held in odd-numbered years, and the governor is term-limited to one term). Cuccinelli changed his position the next day. Even the kookiest state attorney general is not supposed to change election rules for the election in process. AG Cuccinelli’s discomfiture put him at odds with Governor McDonnell (Douglas), who has given no sign of displeasure over Romney’s being the main man on the ballot.

More on the legal challenge later.

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