Political hijinks, to put it kindly.
Pundits were declaring Gingrich and Perry fools and “epic failures” for not following Virginia GOP rules and getting disqualified from the primary ballot. Some would cast them as incompetent in a move to push Romney; a closer examination shows that the Virginia GOP has disqualified its own constituency from a choice in voting.
Note, too, that Santorum, Bachmann and Huntsman didn’t even attempt to get on the ballot. So what’s going on?
It seems that in the prior years of 2000, 2004 and 2008 candidates didn’t have any trouble getting the 10,000 signatures approved for their candidates. Then in 2011 an independent candidate for the Virginia legislature, Michael Osborne, sued the Virginia GOP for not checking signatures. Osborne v. Boyle is still pending and the Va. GOP decided to change its policy.
Candidates like Romney and Paul – who have been campaigning for what? decades? – knew the ins and outs well and also were told about the changes in March. Perry and Gingrich – newer to the game – did not find out until the fall when it was too late to get the manpower to collect and check signatures.
Romney had the added help of Va. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling heading up his Virginia campaign. According to the Washington Post, Bolling had earlier said, “he expects some GOP candidates to miss the deadline for signatures in Virginia, whose certification process he calls the toughest in the nation.” Bolling personally delivered the 16,000 signatures for Romney for qualification.
Interesting, too, that according to the Virginia GOP law, if a candidate collects 50% more than the 10,000 signatures required, he more or less escapes signature scrutiny.
For other candidates, the rules are exceedingly strict. Of those 10,000 signatures:
1. At least 400 must be from each of the eleven congressional districts
2. Petition circulators must be registered or eligible to vote in Virginia, which means candidates can’t use out of state people to collect them.
3. Signatures must be gathered using the State Board of Elections official form – a two page document which must be reproduced as a double sided. Single sided staple forms are not acceptable.
4. Signatures must be collected on forms that are specific to each city, county and congressional district.
5. Only qualified voters may sign.
6. Each SINGLE petition form must be sworn and notarized.
Ashby Law blog had noted 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 make a run at it will come up short and be kept off the Virginia primary ballot as a result.” His words were prescient.
Ashby Law blog also believes the process “violates the Equal Protection Clause under Bush v. Gore.”
It does seem, too, that the highest money campaigns benefited from this craziness. One comment said “the fix is in and the people of Virginia got screwed.” It does appear to help the party establishment and the rules have been directed to shape the vote.
Redstate blogger accurately sums it up: “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.”