RICHMOND — Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich said Wednesday that a paid worker turned in fraudulent signatures to try to get him on the ballot in Virginia, while Texas. Gov. Rick Perry stepped up his legal effort to be included in the Old Dominion's March 6 primary.
Mr. Gingrich, who fell short of collecting the required number of signatures to qualify for the ballot, acknowledged the snafu at a campaign stop in Iowa, saying that about 1,500 of his 11,050 signatures were from one worker who "frankly committed fraud."
Meanwhile, Mr. Perry on Wednesday filed an emergency order in U.S. District Court in Richmond to have his name placed on the ballot, a day after filing a lawsuit against state Board of Elections members and Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the state's ballot rule that signatures must be collected by eligible or registered qualified voters in the state, and another injunction to order Mr. Perry be placed on the ballot.
State party officials certified former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas as the only two candidates who will appear on the March 6 primary ballot, after ruling last week that neither Mr. Gingrich nor Mr. Perry amassed the necessary 10,000 valid signatures to qualify.
The state Board of Elections originally reported Mr. Perry submitted 11,911 signatures, but court documents filed by Mr. Perry indicate he collected "over 6,000 petition signatures from qualified Virginia voters."
Mr. Mullins issued a statement Wednesday saying he complied with Virginia law and relevant statutes by certifying Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul for the ballot, and that neither he nor the party will say anything more until the judge issues a ruling.
Further complicating the ongoing drama, an Alexandria-based conservative group and a former Democratic Party of Virginia chairman are contending that the certifications of the candidates who did qualify - Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul on the Republican side, as well as President Obama on the Democratic side - are all invalid.
The group Citizens for the Republic and longtime Democratic strategist Paul Goldman said Wednesday that the standards used to certify candidates in Virginia were unconstitutional.
If a Republican candidate turns in more than 15,000 statewide signatures and at least 600 signatures of registered voters from each of the state's 11 congressional districts, they are deemed to have met the threshold and are certified. But if they submit fewer signatures, the party verifies individual signatures until the requisite 10,000 statewide signatures and 400 signatures from each congressional district are met.
Mr. Paul's signatures were verified because he did not submit more than 15,000 signatures, but Mr. Romney exceeded the signature threshold and his petitions were not scrutinized.
"The problem is not that it's hard to get on the ballot," said Bill Pascoe, executive vice president of Citizens for the Republic, "it's that they're not following the statute and checking the signatures."
President Obama submitted more than 15,000 signatures, and was certified as the only Democratic candidate.
The RPV issued a lengthy statement Wednesday on the petition rules, saying that in the party's long experience it has never encountered a situation where a candidate who turned in 15,000 or more signatures has failed to make the ballot, absent cases of obvious fraud.
"Candidates were officially informed of the 15,000 rule in October 2011, well in advance of the Dec. 22 submission deadline," it reads. "The rule was no surprise to any candidate - and indeed, no candidate or campaign offered any complaints until after the Dec. 23 validation process had concluded."
The Board of Elections officials declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit, but board Secretary Donald Palmer noted that any challenge would have to move expeditiously.
"Time is of the essence," he said. "As time goes by, it gets harder and harder to change anything about the ballot because of these tough deadlines."
Mr. Pascoe argued that legislators could easily work out a solution prior to convening on Jan. 11 so that legislation would be ready to be approved on Day 1.
The deadline for mailing absentee ballots is Jan. 21 - or 45 days before the election. The date gives any potential remedy less than a month to be adopted.
House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, said that while there was no harm in taking a long-term look at overhauling the rules, the General Assembly would be hard-pressed to do something under such a short time frame.
"I think it's always a mistake to rush into something," he said. "I just don't see it happening."
The elections board on Wednesday also approved the ballot order for the Republican primary in a random drawing that determined Mr. Paul's name will appear first. Mr. Perry had asked the court for an injunction preventing the drawing.
The board also approved a Republican Party of Virginia "primary pledge," whereby voters in the primary must sign a form pledging that they intend to support the Republican nominee for president before they are allowed to vote.
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