Did the VA GOP change the rules on primary ballot access in November 2011?

Apparently, yes.

Richard Winger over at Ballot Access News has an EXTREMELY interesting post (link via here) on the mess that the Virginia Republican party has found itself in over… access to the ballot in Virginia. For those coming in late, background here and here: the very short version is that the VA GOP only certified Mitt Romney and Ron Paul for its primary ballot.  Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich both had too many signatures tossed; Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann didn’t even try.  Of the seven candidates, one (Romney) had more than enough signatures (15K) to bypass the verification process entirely.  All of this has caused a lot of agitation among Republicans following the primary process, of course; and not just from people who disapprove of what the VA GOP has done.  There has been a good deal of defending of the outcome; and one argument heavily used in this defense has been that the campaigns all knew the rules and that previous Republican campaigns were able to get on the ballot, so clearly a competent current Republican campaign should have done so.

One small problem with that: as Winger argues, the rules were allegedly drastically changed.  In November of this year.

Winger’s article is too long to reproduce here, so I’ll summarize it: prior to the 2012 elections it was Republican party policy in Virginia to simply deem any candidate that brought in ten thousand raw signatures as having met the primary ballot requirements under Virginian state election law.  So, for example, Alan Keyes (a popular negative example for people making the ‘any competent campaign’ argument) apparently did not actually have his petitions checked in 2000 and 2008; absent going back and looking at the paperwork (assuming that it even still exists), there’s no way to tell whether he would have survived the scrutiny of 2012.  And that’s true of every other candidate who has appeared on the primary ballot in Virginia.  None of them qualify for an apples-to-apples comparison – and this remains true no matter how many signatures were collected.  If you know that your signatures will not be checked if you get above 10K, you are simply operating in a fundamentally different environment than one where you know that your signatures will be checked.

So what happened? Osborne v. Boyles.  On October 24th independent state delegate candidate Michael Osborne filed suit against the Republican party of Virginia (specifically, Fifth District GOP Chairman Brandon Boyles) because of this policy: as the article notes, “the law simply requires that party-affiliated candidates present their petitions to the local party chairman – in this case Boyles – who is responsible for reviewing the petition signatures on their own. It does not dictate how thorough this review must be or give state officials any power to challenge it.”  The case is still pending – interestingly, the election that this lawsuit was ostensibly addressing has come and gone – but according to Winger the VA GOP decided in response to bump up from 10K to 15K the threshold for simply deeming the requirements as being met.  The complications of it being the day after Christmas makes final confirmation of all of this difficult, but Osborne v. Boyles is an actual case and Richard Winger is one of the go-to guys on the arcane subject of ballot access: what I can check out about this story I have checked out.

As for the implications… well, I think that John Fund’s general comment is correct: this is going to go to the courts.  John was not discussing this specific wrinkle, but his larger point that Virginia’s ballot access policies have systemic problems gets a big boost when it turns out that the state party can effectively increase by fifty percent the practical threshold for ballot access – in a day, and in the middle of an existing campaign.  The VA GOP still retains ultimate control over who gets on the ballot, of course.  But then, they always have – and under the current system they could in fact brazen it out and certify Gingrich and Perry anyway.  Of course, that would probably mean another lawsuit anyway; but then, there really isn’t a path out of here that doesn’t involve lawsuits.

But that’s a matter for the courts and the party leadership.  On the activist level; as noted above, there has been a certain argument used to defend the VA GOP.  It’s an argument that accuses two Presidential campaigns of being ignorant of conditions on the ground… and it turns out that the people using that argument may themselves be guilty of being ignorant of conditions on the ground.  If it is true that the Republican party of Virginia decided in November of 2011 to increase the threshold for automatic certification from 10K to 15K, then it is reasonable to suggest that this was a change that unfairly rewarded candidates who had previously run for President in Virginia.  Even if you dispute that, if this story checks out then it is still completely unreasonable to compare the Gingrich/Perry campaigns to any historical Presidential campaign in Virginia: if this was 2008 or 2000, they’d both be on the ballot themselves and the subject wouldn’t have even come up.  And anyone who still tries to use that argument needs to understand that doing so simply makes them look foolish, instead of the Presidential campaigns that they’re pretty much trying to assault.  Put another way… I know that this statement will grate on some people, but here goes: if this checks out then there are some defenders of the VA GOP decision out there who need to start apologizing for their, ah, over-enthusiasm.  Whether or not they think that it’s fair, or whether anybody’s apologizing to them, or really anything else.

Because… karma.  It’s what’s for dinner.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

PS: Let me take this opportunity to repeat my earlier recommendation to the Romney campaign that they request that the VA GOP check their signatures, too.  The deadline for certification is tomorrow, IIRC; and even as it stands now it is unlikely that the VA GOP will certify anyone besides Romney or Paul.  If the Romney campaign wants to have any distance from the VA GOP at all on this issue, it is running out of time to ensure that.

PPS: Some of my colleagues feel that the real, underlying problem here is that the Commonwealth of Virginia should have changed its election laws to reflect the (valid, in my opinion) issues brought up in the original Osborne v. Boyles lawsuit.  I actually agree with that; there is something definitely odd about having rigorous restrictions on a party candidate’s access to the ballot that are enforced by the parties themselves.  But the laws weren’t changed; the internal rules were, and on short notice.  And I expect that there’s going to be additional, equally valid lawsuits over that.

34 thoughts on “Did the VA GOP change the rules on primary ballot access in November 2011?”

  1. I’m man enough to take back some of my earlier comments.
    The idea that the party chooses who gets on the ballot is dumb. Here in Florida, if you get the signatures you turn them into the Division of Elections (part of Florida’s State Department) (or local Supervisor Of Elections offices) and you get certify to on the ballot there.

  2. Virginia politics, on both sides of the aisle, is rife with good-old-boy networks. It’s not as bad as the old days of the Byrd Machine, but still…such things retain a strong influence.

  3. Let’s assume this is all true- then I have two questions:

    If you’ve never run for office in VA, is there some place you go to get the rules for how to go about such an endeavor? And if so, wouldn’t that “place” provide an update to any potential candidate if in fact the rules changed midstream?

  4. If this is true, then of course I retract what I said about the Perry and Gingrich campaigns, and happily concede that they had the rug yanked out from under them. Further, I would be happy to join the push for their inclusion on the ballot — it’s not as though I only wanted a two-candidate primary in Virginia. I would like to say in my own defense, though, that I was neither attacking specific candidates nor defending the VA GOP per se; rather, I was standing up for what I thought was a fair system. If that system was manipulated late in the game, then my whole reason for defending it goes away.

  5. Figures. So, when will the lsm start reporting on this?? I just watched a segment on FOX talking about how stupid Newt and Perry are because they couldn’t even get on the ballot like all the other good little republicans and democrats before them. The message appeared to be, if you are still considering voting for either of these idiots, this should change your mind. This whole process is pretty disgusting.

  6. Of course this looks bad for all conservatives and republicans. Any charge can now be levied with some significance as to be a distraction to the entire primary process. you would think after the brink in 2000 that people would ha learned…

  7. Romney and Paul ALSO had to get 50% more votes in a little more than a month — AND THEY DID. Why should Gringrich and the well-funded Perry not have to play by the new rules – as Romney and Paul successfully did. If Romney and Paul were as screwed up as the Gingrich and Perry campaigns then NO ONE would be on the ballot. But that didn’t happen did it? Lame is still lame. Sorry, no affirmative action for Newt and Ricky. The big babies.

  8. If this holds I would encoyrage everyone who would nor otherwise, vote for Paul and throw a little wrench into process here. What we now have is a choice between a fake and a wack job, I will will vote for the wack job.

  9. Newt showed up in Virginia three days before the deadline, scrambling ALL OF A SUDDEN and collects thousands of last minute signatures. He got some 12,000 ultimately? As did Perry? If they both could collect some thousands in the last two or three days, then they could have gotten to the 15,000 EASY if they knew what they were doing and STARTED 45 days before – in November when the rules changed (like Romney and Paul did, of course) So they are just fools and I wouldn’t waste my time trying to prop them up, and make excuses for them. You don’t put your faith in fools like these two when you’re trying to defeat an entrenched incumbent President. Let’s grow up and act like adults here guys. This isn’t kid stuff.

  10. Do we know they had to change, copp? Perhaps they wojld have turned in the same set of signatures under the former rules. Do we know they were notified and changed tactics?

  11. If the Virginia GOP, made the rule change in Nov. 2011, then it’s pretty clear that the intent was to keep Gingrich off the ballot. The Republican establishment has made it pretty clear they want Romney as the nominee. If a moderate Republican is the key to taking the White House, then why didn’t McCain win in 2008? I’m just askin’.

  12. Your question I think is: Were they notified? Implying that if they weren’t notified, they can’t be held responsible. Well, it seems to me that any potential candidate – let’s say me, for example – can’t expect to be notified when a rule changes. It’s not the state GOP’s responsibility to figure out who all the potential candidates may be that they must then notify. I assume the rule change is published or posted somewhere where anyone contemplating turning in signatures would know to look. For them to now plead that “I didn’t know” is probably not going to fly.

  13. “If it is true that the Republican party of Virginia decided in November of 2011 to increase the threshold for automatic certification from 10K to 15K, then it is reasonable to suggest that this was a change that unfairly rewarded candidates who had previously run for President in Virginia.”

    How? Did the past collection of signatures count in the current crop?

    If a candidate had run previously, when the threshold was 10,000 signatures, isn’t it more likely that this candidate will simply assume that 10,000 is STILL the threshold?

    Therefore the experienced candidate is more likely to be disadvantaged, if they presume rather than prepare?

    1. Jack: the past collection of signatures would not count in the present day… but you go back to those people first. Some of them will be gone, some will have moved, some will have decided on a new candidate – but you can still mine the list for signatures.

      Usually, whether or not that’s fair doesn’t matter. Whether it matters in this situation isn’t really my or your decision to make; instead, it’s probably going to be the subject of a court case, especially since the only two people who made it on the ballot are the two people who also ran in 2008.

  14. There are several errors in your commentary, which I would like to correct.

    1. Newt knew, or should have known, about the VA requirements well in advance. One of his campaign attorneys is Chris Ashby, who is also counsel for the Republican Party of Virginia. Chris was in the room on December 23rd during the entire validation process.

    2. Mr. Ashby is able to explain in detail the nature of the reasons for disqualification of about a third of Newt’s signatures. He knows that while some were disqualified because they were collected by out-of-state solicitors, most were for reasons like non-registered voter, no valid address furnished, no notarized signature on the petition.

    3. The explanation of the requirements occurred prior to October 24th. I attended a meeting October 1st in Richmond where the criteria were explained in detail by the executive director of the party. I do not know how much earlier than that date the requirements were first explained.

    4. There have been examples in previous campaigns where the laxness of enforcement of the rules seemed to breed intentional flaunting of the rules. For example, in past, campaigns have submitted boxes with bricks in them, assuming they would never be opened.

    1. Still Hurting: I am approving your comment, but you will not comment like this in the future on this forum without also admitting your affiliation with the Romney campaign. We clear on this? – The only acceptable answer is “Yes, Moe.”

  15. One of the things that the VA GOP, if they are in the tank for Romney, are not considering is that delegates are awarded proportionally and it’s an open primary.

    I really don’t think they want the spectacle of Ron Paul getting the bulk of his delegates from Virginia because they didn’t put another protest-vote alternative.

  16. Moe: I can’t see how it would benefit the Romney campaign to ask the VA GOP to check their signatures, too. At best, they get a declaration that they really did have enough signatures, which wasn’t in that much doubt in the first place. And at worst, they get kicked off the ballot.

    It would be much better for the Romney campaign instead to endorse having the other candidates certified for the ballot on the grounds of fairness.

    BigGator5: It doesn’t work that way for the Florida presidential primary. The state party gets to select which candidates will be placed on the presidential primary ballot, with no signatures involved. A potential candidate can have their name removed from the ballot if they don’t want to be listed, but they can’t get on the presidential primary ballot without the state party’s approval.

  17. So let me get this right, Mitt Romney was able to have a couple of his workers sign their names a few thousand times and he gets on the ballot because no one has to check whether it is the same name signed 15,000 times? Nice! Way to go moronic Virginians.

  18. Moe,

    Does anyone remember the Don Black “Stormfront 500 dollar donation that Paul decided not to return?

  19. All this has told me is that Newt/Perry do not have the organizational structure in place in VA to react to changes on the ground…ie they are ‘marginal’ players at this point.

    If I wanted to be mean, I’d point out that Newt was still on a book tour in early december…and wasn’t he the one that took a cruise somewhere? And didn’t that cruise signal to his staff that he wasn’t serious…and so they left? Right?

    I’m fine with liberal ballot access, but I’m also a big fan of methodical, serious campaigns that have state-level organizations that maybe, just maybe, beat Obama

  20. Moe, If by “affiliated” you mean that I personally support him, I proudly admit it. I also admit that I have donated $3 to his campaign this cycle.

    There are many sources out there trying to make some big conspiracy out of Gingrich/Perry’s failure to qualify. Most of the “information” being handed around is conjecture. In fact, the explanation is much simpler: these were late-blooming campaigns that had too little money, too little staff, too many competing priorities. Each of the campaigns that failed to qualify are stuck in a death struggle to survive IA. And that is where 90% of their resources are dedicated.

  21. It does say a lot about the Virginia Republican party that rule changes are allowed in the middle of an election cycle. That being said, the fact that Gingrich and Perry (and believe me, I have been pulling for President Rick Perry since June or so) couldn’t manage to scrape up 5,000 additional votes in a conservative state does tend to suggest that their organizational skills are lacking.

    (I do hope they get back on the ballot, but given the way the rest of this election cycle has been going, I’m not optimistic. The national GOP has been pushing hard for Romney, the most liberal candidate we could possibly have. Given how often we’ve been screwed by the national GOP, I’m wondering why in the hell I even bother to support them any more.)

  22. Doesn’t this fall under the category “Excuses, Excuses”?

    That is: Yes, maybe Perry and Gingrich have a reasonable gripe about the rules possibly having been shifted in the middle of the campaign season, but that doesn’t change the fact that they screwed up.

    Think of all of the complicated decisions that Presidents of the United States have to make in confusing, constantly-shifting landscapes. It’s perfectly legit to criticize or compliment a candidate based on whether they are able to overcome such challenges.

    If this information is right, it does suggest that some of the rhetoric surrounding this story has been factually inaccurate and a bit overblown, but I don’t think it affects the underlying dynamic: that it erodes faith in Perry and Gingrich’s competency, and reinforces Romney’s image as a technocratic candidate who will always be on top of everything and won’t make unforced errors in the general.

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