As Moe posted yesterday, it appears that Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are the only two candidates who have qualified for ballot access in Virginia. The Republican Party of Virginia has announced that Rick Perry had not collected the required 10,000 signatures and as I type this, the news is breaking that Gingrich is 2000 votes short of qualifying. Via Twitter:
RPV@VA_GOP Richmond, VA After verification, RPV has determined that Newt Gingrich did not submit required 10k signatures and has not qualified for the VA primary.
The Washington Examiner ran a gleeful hit piece Friday night quoting an anonymous "source with knowledge of the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) petition signature verification process" who said Perry was "dead on arrival" and didn't follow the "simple" rules required in VA. The piece continues:
"The source said the Virginia debacle was an “epic failure” on Perry’s behalf, and the candidate’s failure to get on the ballot showed a total lack of organization and incompetence, which is not a trait voters should accept from a presidential candidate."
The article also notes that the rules were sent to "all the Republican presidential campaigns" in March, but later admits that Perry's campaign may not have received the detailed instructions because he didn't enter the race until August.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch informs us that the Romney campaign had their petitions personally delivered by none other than Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, Romney's VA campaign chairman. It probably didn't hurt that someone in the Romney family has pretty much been running for president since the Johnson administration, so they've known and understood the rules of the game for much longer than the other candidates. Props to their campaign for playing well.
Unfortunately for Virginia voters, especially conservatives, they will only have two candidates to choose from on their primary ballot: Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Isn't Mark Levin a resident of Virginia? I can't imagine how he's going to split this baby in half. Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman didn't even bother to file, presumably because the process was so burdensome that it wasn't worth the time or investment.
Ashby Law had a blog post on Thursday warning that this would happen, saying that it is,
"...a labor-intensive task so expensive and time-consuming that at least one and possibly more campaigns will not even attempt it this year. And, the very real possibility exists that one or more candidates who made a run at it will come up short and be kept off the Virginia primary ballot as a result."
The blog goes on to describe the process of gaining ballot access, which is likely the most burdensome in the country:
"A minimum of 10,000 petition signatures collected statewide, including at least 400 from each of its 11 congressional districts. That’s hard enough. But then there are the additional restrictions: The petition circulators must be registered or eligible to vote in Virginia. The signatures must be gathered using the State Board of Elections’ official form, a two-page document which must be reproduced as double-sided. (Single-sided stapled forms are not accepted.) Signatures must be collected on forms that are specific to each city, county and congressional district. Only “qualified” voters may sign a petition. And every single petition form must be sworn and notarized."
The blogger claims to know top political consultants who turned town lucrative offers working on presidential campaigns because they thought the task could not be accomplished.
To make matters worse, the Republican Party of Virginia appears to have rigged the system in favor of candidates who were able to gather a comfortable excess of names on petitions. Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, Pat Mullins, issued the following (undated) directive:
"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)"
"If any candidate submits fewer than 15,000 signatures of registered voters on valid petitions statewide or fewer than 600 signatures of registered voters on valid petitions in one or more of the 11 Congressional Districts, the Republican Party of Virginia will individually verify signatures until the 10,000 signature statewide threshold and/or 400 per Congressional district is met."
In other words, if a candidate can gather 50% more signatures than actually required, the standard for those signatures is lower than for the signatures of candidates who gather 14,999 signatures or less. It appears that the Romney campaign, which boasted of gathering "some 16,000" signatures was able to escape the scrutiny of having every signature individually verified. I'm assuming, since the RPV verified Ron Paul's certification so early that he also met the higher standard. Unfortunately for Perry and Gingrich, they didn't hit the magic number, so their signatures were held to the higher standard.
The Ashby Law blogger thinks that,
"[T]he Party’s plan to scrutinize some candidates’ signatures and not others, based upon the arbitrary standard of whether the candidates submitted a full 50% more than the statutory requirement, violates the Equal Protection Clause under Bush v. Gore. "
Moreover, he points out that the larger problem is the excessive standard in Virginia, which has turned the primary process into little more than a factory-style signature gathering machine with little actual bearing on the process of choosing a qualified president:
"Each successive petition drive has gotten harder and harder as volunteers have grown more and more tired of the arduous, tedious work it takes to gather thousands upon thousands of signatures in ever more frequent petition drives. The drives have gotten more expensive, too, as campaigns have resorted to paying volunteers to incent their efforts. What should be a test of a campaign’s organization and grassroots has become a drain on them—exhausting volunteers and siphoning away money better spent contacting voters, delivering messages, identifying supporters and driving turnout, all important objectives that petition drives have proven worthless at advancing."
This is the takeaway, I think, from what happened yesterday. Congratulations, Virginia. You have two fantastic signature collectors on your exclusive ballot. One is a loon and the other is a candidate that 75% of Republicans don't want. Instead of substantial conservative candidates spending time in your state, spreading the conservative message to your voters, you will have the "Great Romney-Paul Debate of 2012." Enjoy that circus.