Super (Fail) Tuesday

On Christmas Eve, the following story was almost (but not quite) concealed by the holiday hysteria.

The Republican Party of Virginia announced that only two of the Presidential candidates had qualified for the ballot for the Virginia primary on Tuesday, March 6, 2012, a.k.a., “Super Tuesday.”

Two of the highest-profile candidates — Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry — had submitted over 10,000 signatures, per state law, but not in compliance with state law.  The remaining Republican Presidential candidates (four?  six?  ninety-six?) did not submit 10,000 signatures, so there was nothing to check.

To make the matter more embarrassing, Gingrich actually lives in Virginia and was leading in the latest polls.  Perry had also visited the state several times, met with the Governor and his campaign was headed by a former statewide official (Jerry Kilgore).

Super Tuesday?  Super Fail.

In my brief and inglorious political career, I have been active in three statewide campaigns, including one Presidential (Wes Clark for President in 2004).

I can tell you that the #1 mission of any statewide campaign — before media, endorsements, rallies — is making sure your man or woman is on the ballot.  Period.  Until that happens, there is nothing else to talk about.

The laws of Virginia are challenging but not complex.  You need 10,000 signatures of registered Virginia voters to get on the ballot, of which at least 400 signatures must be from each Congressional district.  The signatures are due before the ballot is printed, which means at least 70 days before the election.

The signatures must have the printed name of the signer underneath and the signer’s address printed alongside.  (This is all on the preprinted SBE forms).  The reason for these requirements is obvious — to ensure the signers are actual Virginia voters whose identities can be verified.

Finally, the signatures on each petition must be verified by the Virginian gathering the signatures.  That verification is at the bottom of each petition and must be notarized.  Again, it’s a simple requirement to make sure the signatures are valid.

Folks, this ain’t rocket science.  If you can’t handle this requirement, maybe you’re not qualified to lead the Free World.

In the aftermath of Petition-gate, some argue that the signature requirements are anti-democratic are even unconstitutional

Actually, the requirements are perfectly reasonable.  A statewide primary will cost millions to the state and local governments.  (Over 2,000 voting places must be open all day).   

Why should a candidate be able to inflict that cost on the taxpayer if there is not sufficient interest in their candidacy? 

As a practical matter, a Presidential candidate with minimal grassroots support can get 10,000 signatures, especially if the local party committees cooperate.  (Just stand outside Stone Road Giant in Centreville.  I meet Republicans there all the time!)

Otherwise, it’s perfectly legal and huge time savings to just hire a service to gather the signatures.  The cost is about $10,000, or $1 per valid signature.  To be safe, you should aim for at least 15,000 signatures in case some are missing info.  If you don’t have that money, then you’re in the wrong business.

Some of this blame has to fall on the RPV and the Republican leadership.  No, it’s not their job to hold hands with the Presidential candidates. But it is their job to have an interesting race on March 6, 2012, especially since the voters on that day will be their identified “R’s” for the next several voting cycles.  In that respect, they totally failed. 

As a Democrat, it’s easy to laugh at these miscues.  But the real losers are the voters.  They deserve a legitimate choice on March 6th, not just two candidates. 

Either way, the system is legitimate and weeds out the un-serious candidates.  Apparently it will work again in 2012. 







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  • isophoroneblog

    As I understand it, Newt Gingrich also failed to make the ballot in Missouri. This is more a result of his own lack of organization than anything else. Plenty of other marginal candidates have made the Virginia ballot. As far as RPV is concerned, you are right, they do not need to hold the hands of the candidates. Of course, you can vote for party registration in Virginia to have really good voting lists. Any inclination to do so? ;)

    • Chap Petersen

      Not a big fan of party registration, although i think it would help the Dems. Many voters tend to label themselves as Democrats, even when they vote Republican or Indepedent.

  • Mgropman


    I agree with you, organization matters, not the candidate. One night I was leaving the Taste of Braddock at Supervisors Cooks’s office. There was a lady who was gathering signatures to get Newt Gingrich on the ballot. I told as a Democract I would sign his pettion. She said I had to be a Republician who who would support the nominee. I told that is not true and I did not sign his pettion. On electiion day at Farivew I signed Mitt Romney’s so he could be on the ballot. If the Republicians were smart they would cirrculate pettions on election day.

  • amcit

    “Why should a candidate be able to inflict that cost on the taxpayer if there is not sufficient interest in their candidacy?”

    Are you saying that since Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are the two who are on the ballot, there is only sufficient interest in *their* candidacies?

    I really want to know why PARTIES inflict the cost on the taxpayer at all. A primary is only to tell the *party* which candidate to support. Come November, the voters can still write in their candidate.

    • Chap Petersen

      What I’m saying is that no one has a right to be on a primary ballot. There are barriers to entry which reflect the cost to the public. The state law permits parties to put this cost on the taxpayer, as long as they have candidates to clear this barrier. Yes, there is sufficient interest in the Paul and Romney candidacies and they will get to split the “R” delegates. I realize not everyone is happy with that result, but that’s the law.

  • Groveton

    You’ve missed the point.

    How restrictive are Virginia’s primary ballot requirements compared to other states? I believe they are the most draconian in the country. Why? Because our masters in Richmond don’t think we should really have a choice. How are the people of Virginia benefitted by having the most draconian rules in the country? They aren’t. However, the Decedents of Pocohontas who have long clung to state – wide political power in Richmond benefit. For example, they can provide two brilliant candidates like Tim Kaine and George Allen for US Senate. One is the worst governor in memory who spent his last six months in office becoming the worst Chairman of the Democratic Party in history. The other is a man so bereft of sense that he looked into a video camera and hurled racist invective at the young man filming him. Cheech and Chong would make for a better choice on election day.

    Yet, you defend the most restrictive primary system in the country. A system that gives us Kaine vs Allen and no chance to get Gingrich or Perry on the ballot. You can’t even write them in on te primary ballot because that’s not allowed!

    Chap, I think you need a New Year’s resolution – spend less time in Richmond. Spend less time talking to people from Richmond. Dealing with the Richmond establishment is turning your brian to mush.

    • Chap Petersen

      Considering that I’ve spent no time in Richmond since April 2011, that would be an easy resolution to keep. My point is that the system is well known to all the parties and has not been a barrier to even the most marginal candidates (Dennis Kucinich? Gary Bauer?), who managed to make it on the VA ballot. In 2008, there were over a dozen candidates on the respective primary ballots. Should the system be more open? I’m not familiar with what other states do — and frankly it’s never been an issue before. Some may require fewer signatures but also have a hefty entrance fee. I don’t know. But I’m not supporting a change to the system for 2012, after the rules had already been established.

  • Groveton

    I am finishing a nice vacation and getting back into Virginia politics today. I see Ken Cuccinelli has solen a march on Virginia’s Democrats. He is introducing legislation (not quite sure how an AG does that) to open the primary ballot.

    Here is the logic of the legislation:

    “Cuccinelli said the GOP ballot situation has shown the state’s law to be deficient. His bill, which prominent Democrats support, is expected to say that any candidate who qualifies for federal matching funds and asks to be on the ballot can be added to it.”.

    Wow! Virginia doesn’t need it’s own half-assed approach? We’ll just follow the federal matching funds guidelines for this federal election?

    I think the Democrats in Virginia need a group New Year’s resolution – start taking Ken Cuccinelli seriously. Of course, that may already be happening since “prominent Democrats” apparently support Cuccinelli’s proposed legislation.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s cut to the chase here. Virginia has, by far, the most onerous process for getting on the primary ballot. Virginia requires 10,000 signatures which, after some hocus pocus review, really requires more like 15,000. Names must be collected in all congressional districts, etc. The next most onerous state is Indiana with a requirement for 4,500 signatures.

    So, why does Virginia has twice the level of strictness as the next most strict state?

    It is entirely designed to allow our state politicians to demand personal tribute from national candidates.

    If you are a national candidate seeking to get on Virginia’s ballot – what do you do? Organize a Virginia – specific effort to canvass the state and sign up people? Time is short and, for many candidates, so is money. No, you don’t build your own organization in Virginia. You go hat in hand to one of the Richmond establishment’s established politicians and ask to “borrow” his or her political organization.

    In other words, you grovel. Get me on the ballot in Virginia and I’ll take care of you if I end up being elected. Notice that the “you” here is singular. The national candidate doesn’t promise to take care of Virginia or Virginians … he or she promises to take care of the Richmond establishmentarian.

    And all it costs is the right of Virginia’s voters to chose who they want to nominate for President of the United States.

    This litte scam makes for odd bedfellows since, in different years, it can help politicians from either party. So, Jackson Miller rails about how various other candidates made it onto the Virginia ballot (i.e. paid political tribute) in years gone by. Chap Petersen claims that this failure to pay political tribute somehow weeds out bad candidates (I thought the voters were supposed to do that). Even Cuccinelli walks away from his anti-establishment persona and falls in line.

    Just one funny thing … none of them will tell you why we have such a bizarre process in the first place. More onerous by a factor of two than the next most onerous state.

    America is turning into a country where the citizens are coming to hate the politicians who supposedly represent them. This hatred is becoming visceral. The politicians spout pablum about having the right to vote them out. However, even that is not always the case. For example, the good people of Virginia will not be able to vote for Newt Gingrich as our nominee in the Republcan primary. Our “masters” in Richmond have seen to that.

    One day in the future a current member of the Republican establishment in Richmond may end up losing an election and going to the political wilderness. Then, President Romney will name that politician as Ambassador to Portugal. It will seem odd to many. However, the seeds of that appointment were sown when the Richmond insider used an absurd law to take choice away from his constituents and feather bed his own political future.

    Chap, you should be ashamed of your defense of this abortion of justice.