Fox News reports that Rick Perry is suing the Virginia board of elections in U.S. District Court to gain access to the state’s primary ballot, currently a lonely hill upon which only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul sit:
“Virginia ballot access rules are among the most onerous and are particularly problematic in a multi-candidate election. We believe the Virginia provisions unconstitutionally restrict the rights of candidates and voters by severely restricting access to the ballot, and we hope to have those provisions overturned or modified to provide greater ballot access to Virginia voters and the candidates seeking to earn their support,” claims Sullivan.
Perry is suing members of the Virginia Board of Election and the chair of the Virginia Republican Party. In the suit, he claims that the process violates the 1st and 14th Amendment rights of both voters and candidates, “to meaningfully participate in the political process.”
In a press release, the Perry campaign sites examples of cases it which it claims similar out-of-state petition requirement have been struck down. The campaign goes on the say the Virginia Republican Party has the power to tell the Virginia Board of Election which candidates should be on the ballot.
Virginia’s primary falls on March 6, what will be the first Super Tuesday. 10 other states will hold primaries and caucuses on that day. Both Ohio and Virginia could be key swing states if the primary battle lasts past Florida.
Perry and Newt Gingrich both submitted petition signatures to gain spots on the ballot, but were rejected due to an insufficient number of signatures. The other candidates didn’t even bother submitting any signatures. Virginia does not allow write-in votes during its primary.
Perry’s court challenge will have to be resolved quickly, as the Virginia primary is March 6, and ballots have to be mailed out by January 21.
A key target of Perry’s challenge is the stringent requirements for petition circulators, who must be eligible Virginia voters. This prevents the campaigns from importing manpower to handle those petitions from outside the state. As the Fox News report alludes, similar restrictions have been successfully challenged as First Amendment violations in other states. The petition circulator requirements are a bit puzzling from the standpoint of electoral integrity – who cares if the guy asking you to sign a petition so Rick Perry can get on the Virginia ballot is from Texas? – but they have the benefit of compelling national campaigns to hire Virginians for their legwork.
This all begs the question of why Perry, Gingrich, or the other candidates didn’t challenge the Virginia rules a long time ago. They might have hoped they could meet the ballot criteria, but other candidates would not – an idea that has probably been discussed over a few high-fives at Romney and Paul campaign headquarters.
Also, it seems the Virginia rules were changed as recently as November, although not in the area of petition circulator requirements. After being sued by an independent candidate over the threshold for accepting petition signatures without detailed review, the state Republican Party raised the limit from 10,000 signatures to 15,000.
Both Gingrich and Perry initially turned in over 10,000 signatures, but that didn’t meet the new 15k limit for avoiding review, and both of them saw a sizable number of their signatures disqualified. Paul and Romney, by contrast, handed in over 15,000 signatures apiece, and thus avoided review. According to CBS News, “Bill Pascoe of a conservative organization called Citizens for the Republic is considering a challenge to the ballot certification process based on the fact that only candidates who submitted less than 15,000 signatures had their petitions cross-referenced with voting roles, which Pascoe said leaves the system open to fraud.”