- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 27, 2013

As the rest of Richmond is mired in fights over election rules and district boundaries that are fast drawing national attention, state Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II is quietly pushing his own bipartisan package of bills to address difficulties experienced by both candidates and voters in recent years.

One major bill, being shepherded by Delegate Mark L. Cole, Spotsylvania Republican, would reduce the number of required petition signatures for statewide candidates from 10,000 to 5,000 overall and from 400 to 200 in each congressional district.

The comparatively high threshold left several Republican presidential candidates in the lurch for Virginia’s GOP presidential primary last year and allowed eventual nominee Mitt Romney to cruise to a relatively easy win in a one-on-one matchup against then-Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

“The burden is just too high, as I think we unfortunately demonstrated in Virginia,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “There are a number of areas that keep popping up that aren’t really partisan at all.”

Another bill, sponsored by Delegate Joseph D. Morrissey, Richmond Democrat, establishes that independent candidates for office have the right to appeal a determination by a state or local electoral board that they don’t have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

“You would think that it would be sort of a no-brainer, but it isn’t,” said Paul Goldman, a longtime Democratic strategist who is also Mr. Morrissey’s law partner. “There ought to be a statutory right of review. This will just allow them to show up, no lawyer.”

Other measures would require party chairmen to undertake a more stringent review of the signatures on ballot petitions and allow qualified voters who have been deemed “inactive” to still sign ballot petitions. Those measures are being carried by Delegate Richard L. Anderson, Prince William Republican, and Sen. John S. Edwards, Roanoke Democrat, respectively.

Mr. Cuccinelli and Mr. Goldman, speaking about the bills together, said they received input from a broad range of outside sources, both Republican and Democrat.

“We think we have a set of bills here that are going to improve Virginia’s election process,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.

All of the measures are set to be heard at a time when voting issues are threatening to derail virtually the entire legislative session. Democrats are incensed that Senate Republicans, without warning, approved a measure last week that would make a handful of state Senate districts more red just in time for the 2015 elections. The bill passed on a party-line 20-19 vote on the Jan. 21 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, Richmond Democrat and a civil rights pioneer, was in Washington attending President Obama’s inauguration.

Another bill, which key Republicans have come out against, would rejigger the way the state’s Electoral College votes are distributed so that the winner of the popular vote in each of the state’s 11 congressional districts would win one, with two at-large votes going to the candidate who wins the most districts. If those rules had been in place for the 2012 election, Mr. Romney would have won nine electoral votes to Mr. Obama’s four, though Mr. Obama won the overall popular vote.

Mr. Cuccinelli said none of the four bills he is advocating is controversial.

“But it is the General Assembly, and crazy things happen, or so I hear,” he said.

Mr. Cuccinelli, as Virginia’s top lawyer, would be the one submitting the would-be state Senate map to the U.S. Department of Justice for review. Virginia is one of a handful of primarily Southern states that must clear any election changes with the DOJ because of a history of discrimination at the polls.

But Mr. Cuccinelli says he hasn’t seen enough to make judgments on it.

“We need data to analyze it for purposes of the Voting Rights Act, but I don’t have that data yet,” he said.

Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has said that he doesn’t approve of the way the measure was introduced, but that he’d look at the bill on its merits if it gets to his desk.

Mr. Cuccinelli said his reforms and those crafted by Mr. Goldman and others shouldn’t be held up by the tumult elsewhere in the Capitol.

“I think people are calming down and are going to make reasoned, balanced, substantive decisions on a bill-by-bill basis,” he said. “I don’t see the well being poisoned.”