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.
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.