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Getting on the Primary Ballot in Virginia

There’s been a lot of press today on the failure of nearly all of the Republican presidential candidates to qualify for the March 6, 2012 Virginia GOP presidential primary, leaving Republican voters with the “choice” of Romney or Paul.   President Obama was the only candidate to qualify for the Democratic primary, so that primary will be cancelled and Obama gets 100% of Virignia’s National Convention delegates.  Here’s some background on the process.

Under Virginia law, to be included on a party’s presidential primary ballot, a candidate must obtain 10,000 signatures, including 400 from each congressional district.  (Note that the same 10,000 total/400 per CD requirement applies to statewide candidates, including Tim Kaine’s senate election next year.)  Well organized campaigns with a lot of popular support collect the signatures through volunteer efforts; well funded campaigns lacking people power can hire signature collectors; campaigns with little support, organization, and/or money don’t get on the ballot.  The campaigns must submit the petitions to the state board of elections (SBE)  prior to a deadline the SBE sets – Dec. 22, 2011 for 2012 presidential candidates.  The SBE reviews the cover certifications and paperwork,but does not review the petitions – the SBE then hands the petitions over to the state parties  for review.  The parties then review the filing and certify to the SBE the candidates who have qualified to be listed on the primary ballot.

Since the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA) first started allocating its National Convention delegates by primary (for the 2004 electoin), we have had a problem because the Democratic National Commitee (DNC)  delegate selection rules do not allow primaries if state ballot access rules require more than 5,000 signatures.  Since 2004, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee has granted the DPVA a waiver, and allowed a primary, if the DPVA collects 5k signatures (candidates still had to collect 5k).  DPVA did that in 2004 and 2008 (although Obama and Clinton didn’t need the help).  This year OFA collected 15k a month ago.  The DPVA Chair certified Obama as the only qualifying candidates so he gets all of Virginia’s delegates.

This year for the GOP, only Romney, Paul, Perry, and Gingrich even filed with the SBE. Those petitions went to the Republican Party of Virginia which found only Romney and Paul had a sufficient number of signatures.  According to today’s RTD, Perry and Gingrich each submitted 11,000 signatures, but the RPVA didn’t count 10k valid ones and/or 400 from each C.D.  (If anyone has the details, let me know!)  Gingrich stated he would seek to run as a write-in, but state law does not permit write-ins.  By the way, the the major party nominee will get on the ballot in the fall; failure to qualify for the primary doesn’t disqualify the candidate from being on the ballot in November.

Collecting all those signatures is a challenge, but you can do it if you are organized and have good volunteers or have money.  Most of this pathetic bunch of GOP candidates have neither.   We shouldn’t change anything for this year – those are the rules and the candidates made it or didn’t.  But going forward, the General Assembly should lower the signature requirement to 5,000 (as the DPVA has requested prior to each of the recent elections) —  that still takes work, but it’s not an unreasonable barrier to ballot access.