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The GOP ballot qualification controversy

Four years ago the 2008 Republican and Democratic primaries in Virginia were hotly contested races and for the first time in years Virginia was an important player in selecting the party nominees. 

The liveliest contest was for the Democrats.  Barack Obama’s decisive win over Hillary Clinton, with almost a million Democrats casting their ballots, took President Obama one step closer to the nomination. 

However, their names weren’t the only ones on the Democratic Primary ballot.  John Edwards and Howard Dean were there too.  
At the same time, John McCain, already enjoying the status of being dubbed the presumed nominee, was still facing

several feisty opponents.  His most challenging was Mike Huckabee.  But in addition to Huckabee, joining McCain on the GOP ballot, were Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani.
All of these candidates had two things in common.  First of all, they were each out to best the other, but secondly, they had all managed to meet Virginia’s requirements for getting their names on the primary ballot.
However, this year, in a strange turn of events, things are decisively different.  Even, with a ripe field of feisty, lively, and dedicated candidates for the GOP nomination only two candidates, the supposed front runner, Mitt Romney, and the ever quirky Ron Paul, managed to get on the ballot.  Rick Perry, whose strategy has shifted to trying to do better in the southern states, and Newt Gingrich, himself now a Virginian, both failed to get enough signatures to be listed on the ballot.

Getting on the ballot in Virginia isn’t easy.  The requirement is that a candidate, not only in a Presidential primary, but also for any statewide primary, or to be shown as independent in the general election, must gather the signatures of 10,000 Virginia voters.  Further, 400 must come from each of Virginia’s eleven congressional districts.  Also, they must be gathered by a Virginia resident.  No other state in America offers such a demanding requirement.  This can be an overwhelming task. 

However, in spite of this demanding process, all of the major contenders in 2008 qualified for their party’s primary ballots.   That’s why I only have so much sympathy for those candidates that fell short this year. 

Still, I would have liked to have seen their names on the primary ballot and this raises the question of just what purpose is served by Virginia having such an onerous and demanding requirement for ballot qualification? Wouldn’t it be better to have a set of requirements that makes it easier, particularly in presidential primaries, for candidates to get their names before their party’s voters?  

Mitt Romney isn’t everyone’s first choice, Ron Paul certainly isn’t, and if Perry, Gingrich, or Santorum were on the ballot, wouldn’t it give Virginia Republicans more of a say in choosing their party’s Presidential nominee? 

Last week I wrote a column talking about how Virginia, enjoying its new standing, as a bell weather state, would be in the national spotlight.  That’s good for our state’s political system, good for both parties, and thanks to the money the campaigns will be spending in Virginia, even good for our economy.  However, this year, while we’ll still be a state to watch in November, when it comes to the GOP Presidential Primary, Virginia Republicans will have to sit this one out.

I also don’t want to be too harsh on either Perry or Gingrich.  Gingrich, in particular, put a lot of effort into getting on the ballot.  He thought that he had managed to get all the signatures he needed.  But when they were checked, not enough of them were Virginia voters.  And as the result he fell short.  It was a major embarrassment. 

Perry was in much the same boat.  Both would dearly like some relief from the requirements that have tripped up their campaigns.  Even Ken Cuccinelli, the Attorney General, expressed his sympathy for their plight, but said the only thing that could be done was to change the law.  However, to do that, at least in time for the Virginia Presidential Primary, the General Assembly would have had to pass emergency legislation, in an emergency session (the ballots go to press before the legislature officially convenes) in order to change the electoral law.

 Oh, and by the way, if it were to be passed as emergency legislation, it would have required a fourth fifths majority.  Needless to say, that never happened.

There may be some legal challenges, and this happened before with statewide candidates who’ve had trouble qualifying for the ballot, but unless there was some skullduggery (and some in the GOP, rightly or wrongly, have suggested that there was), the court is going to stick with the law.

While, our system has worked, and others have crossed this hurdle before, the current controversy raises a number of questions.  Should it really be this hard? 

Shouldn’t it be easier for primary candidates and independent candidates (those not connected with the major parties) to get a spot on the ballot?  The answer is yes. 

While this would make it easier on the candidates, the real beneficiaries would be Virginia voters.  Having more choices, particularly when it comes to politics, is always a good thing.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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