- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A former Democratic Party of Virginia chairman is teaming up with a conservative group to challenge the certifications of Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul for the March 6 presidential primary ballot after a long weekend of hand wringing over the Republican Party of Virginia’s stringent qualification requirements.

Citizens for the Republic, an Alexandria-based national organization “dedicated to revitalizing the conservative movement,” announced the challenge, with the help of longtime Democratic strategist Paul Goldman, to ensure that the primary offers Republican voters “a fair and honest election, where they can vote for the candidate of their choice.”

“The problem here is not who was kept off the ballot, the problem here is who was put on the ballot and how it was determined that they should get on the ballot,” the group’s executive vice president, Bill Pascoe, said Tuesday. Mr. Pascoe declined to go into specifics about the challenge, citing the sensitivity of the case.

He said the group hopes the matter can be settled without a lawsuit, which could involve poring over existing statutes to reach some sort of agreement on access.

For example, in 1981, when the Democratic Party switched from a primary to a convention process to elect its gubernatorial nominee, Mr. Goldman successfully demonstrated that the formula for allocating delegates could reduce the interests of inner city and rural voters — a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The party agreed with Mr. Goldman’s calculation and compromised with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Grumblings about the state Republican party’s strict ballot requirements reached fever pitch late last week after Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry failed to amass the necessary signatures to qualify.

Republican candidates Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman Jr. and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann did not turn in petitions by the mandatory 5 p.m. Thursday deadline.

To secure a spot on the ballot in Virginia, candidates must collect 10,000 signatures, at least 400 of which must come from each of the state’s 11 congressional districts.

“I think there’s pretty widespread agreement across the political spectrum that they may be too stringent,” Carl W. Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said of the requirements.

After Mr. Gingrich failed to garner enough signatures to qualify, his campaign vowed to explore other options, but Virginia law currently precludes voters from writing in candidates not on the primary ballot.

The news of the Citizens for the Republic’s effort was first reported by Politico.

Any challenge, either through legislation, litigation or otherwise, faces a short time frame. State law requires absentee ballots be mailed out 45 days prior to the election, which would put the deadline at Jan. 21.

A bill to allow a write-in campaign would face an uphill battle in the General Assembly, which convenes Jan. 11. Emergency legislation must gather a supermajority four-fifths votes from the House and the Senate and the signature of Gov. Bob McDonnell — a prospect House Speaker William J. Howell said was unlikely.

“I’m not sure there’s sentiment out there for correcting it for one to two people,” said Mr. Howell, Fredericksburg Republican. “If there’s any recourse, it’s with the state party.”

McDonnell spokesman J. Tucker Martin said that while the governor was disappointed more candidates did not qualify for the primary, the rules were clear.

“The system has been in place for a long time and the ballot requirements [are] well known,” he said.

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, who is planning to run for governor in 2013, also expressed disappointment in the development in the most recent version of his newsletter, saying the threshold should be reduced to 100 signatures per congressional district.

“Let’s face it, absent a serious write-in challenge from some other candidate, Virginia won’t be nearly as ‘fought over’ as it should be in the midst of such a wide open nomination contest,” he wrote. “Our own laws have reduced our relevance. … I hope our new GOP majorities will fix this problem so that neither party confronts it again.”

The State Board of Elections is scheduled Wednesday to draw certified candidates’ names from a hat to determine the order in which they will appear on the ballot.