Did a little known Virginia law change screw Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry?

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    (Interesting, although personally I think they mainly screwed themselves, through gross incompetence. – promoted by lowkell)

    by Paul Goldman

    Even given the questionable legal and constitutional aspects of how the Virginia Republican Party reviewed the petition filings of their GOP presidential hopefuls, all of them might have made the ballot but for a little known change in Virginia law. This statutory change, passed in 2010 by the General Assembly, altered a crucial part of the petition gathering process, making it harder for candidates to get the 10,000 valid signatures required for listing on the March 2012 GOP presidential primary ballot.

    It is a change that only a handful of people in Virginia, or nationally, would appreciate in terms of its real-world effect on the presidential primary process here in the Commonwealth. The change, while legal and properly pre-cleared with the Justice Department under the Voting Right Acts, has had an unintended, but self-evidentially devastating impact on two of the four leading candidates for the GOP nomination.

    How so, you ask? For the 2008 GOP presidential primary, state law said candidates had until 60 days before the primary to submit the required 10,000 signatures. But for the upcoming GOP primary, our petition gathering law has been changed; the new language, added in 2010, now says these petitions must be submitted to the State Board of Elections 75 days prior to the primary date.

     

    This loss of 15 days of petition gathering at such a key point in the process – the nomination fight is heating up – cost Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry many thousands of signatures each in my experience.

    Moreover, the State Board of Elections kept the starting date for signature gathering the same in 2012 as it had been in 2008 — July 1 of the previous year. So in effect, the GOP candidate in this cycle lost not only 15 days of overall petition gathering, but those key 15 days when their petition drive would likely be the most productive.

    When you add the overall nature of Virginia’s restrictive rules, the use of questionable review standards and procedures by the state parties as  permitted by their loose interpretation of state law, the lack of any oversight by the State Board of Election as prohibited by state law, and now the loss of several key weeks of petition gathering, it is no wonder our system is about to disenfranchise so many Virginians in terms of their ability to exercise the right to vote for the candidate of their choice.

    In terms of practical politics, it would seem the loss of those 15 days, in little known legislation failing to take into account the real-world impact on Virginia’s presidential nomination process, might make us the laughing stock of America come this March if the GOP is having a real contest, and if Virginia only has Mitt Romney and Ron Paul on the ballot.

    • glennbear

      Given the fact that the GOP knew fully well that the only real primary race in 2012 would be on the GOP side why would they pass legislation which has little effect on Dems ? In recent history they have been consumed with defeating the Dem side which has been reflected in their legislation.

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      If a campaign is tolerably well-organized, then it should have known of the date to file petition signatures. It is also true that, despite the ridiculous hurdles that Virginia law requires, other campaigns have easily overcome the primary signature requirement.

      A campaign must have one person in charge of the petition effort, someone capable of finding volunteers all over the state. I know from personal experience. Or, a wealthy campaign can hire petition gatherers all over the state. Either way, no sensible campaign turns in the bare minimum of signatures.

    • dominic

      Paul – you’re crusade on this issue is really mind blowing. You are absolutely grasping at straws here.

      They had 5 months – more than 150 days to collect the signatures. If they collected 100 signatures a day (that is finding almost 1 person in each of the 134 cities and counties of Virginia every day), during that 5 months – they would have hit 15000 and we wouldn’t even be talking about this because of the RPV rules. And they also had ample opportunity of events to do it at.

      IMO yes, the rules to get on the ballot in Virginia are very restrictive and should be changed for future elections – but the rules are the rules and everyone knew what they were for this election. They knew how many they needed and how much time they had. Their pathetic organizations (actually do any of them beyond Romney and Paul qualify as the term ‘organization’) weren’t made to compete beyond the first 4 states and in the end that is their own fault.

    • Yes, Virginia’s rules are onerous.  But there is a really big issue that is being overlooked.  Politics in Virginia never stops.

      Why is this important?  Because a lot of signatures are gathered when people are at political meetings.  And unlike other states, where politics is a really only an every-other-year sport, Virginia has a big election every single year.  So our committees (both parties) are meeting all year round.  Even going to a single Fairfax Dem meeting could put a candidate well on his/her way in three congressional districts.

      Also, because there were elections being held, there was nothing keeping these campaigns from coordinating with Republican precinct captains to have petitions outside of polling places.  I know Obama did that in some of the less Dem friendly districts, because a signature there is pretty certain to be legitimate.

      And there were big names involved with these campaigns — Jerry Kilgore, Jim Gilmore.  These aren’t people who lack state-wide experience, and they were also in the best position to call someone pretty high up the political food chain if they had a question or concern.  Obviously they didn’t, or we wouldn’t be in this discussion now.

    • Goldmanusa

           The Democratic party is suppose to be the one most concerned with protecting the rights of the public to exercise the franchise which includes the right to vote for the candidate of one’s choice in a presidential primary nomination fight. The system failed the public this time, everyone agrees with that. The question is whether people have the will to fix it.

           It isn’t about the incompetent petition gatherers, it is about the people’s right to choose. Clearly, when you have a presidential primary of a major party, and the key contenders are not on the ballot, this doesn’t serve the public’s interest.

            That so many seem to show little or no concern or even compassion for the citzen’s right to vote is fascinating to me; Democrats seem to see this solely as an opportunity to attack the GOP’s incompetence.

             I consider that incredibly short sighted.

             Standing up for the right to vote, and offering to help the GOP out of this ballot mess is the right thing to do from all angles. People will see that eventually.

             Fortunately, after 1985, I have had the good fortune to understand the full dimensions of why fighting for the right to vote in a nomination context – I sued the Democratic Party and won in 1981 – is always the right thing to do and how it can have very positive, but unappreciated at the time, results for an entire state.