After five Republican presidential candidates failed to qualify for Virginia’s ballot, the state’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, announced he would file legislation to change the rules before the primary on March 6. Yesterday, however, Cuccinelli decided to drop the idea, concluding it would have been unfair to Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, the two candidates who met the state’s requirement. But Cuccinelli tells National Review Online the movement to change Virginia’s law is gaining traction. Although any change wouldn’t affect this year’s contest, the attorney general says, “I would be surprised if we didn’t see a change this year.”
Current law requires a candidate to collect 10,000 signatures from registered voters statewide, including 400 from each of the Old Dominion’s eleven congressional districts. To be safe, most prognosticators suggest a candidate gather 15,000 signatures. Over the weekend, Cuccinelli emailed, texted, and spoke with several state legislators, getting the sense that “there is fairly strong support” and “a bipartisan interest . . . to reduce the number of signatures required.” His own suggestion is for the state to require 100 signatures per congressional district for a total of 1,100 signatures overall. Following the rule of thumb that a candidate should overcompensate by 50 percent, a candidate would need to collect around 1,600 signatures.
Cuccinelli was unaware that the law was so troublesome until recently. Last month, he ran into members of Michele Bachmann’s campaign in Washington, D.C. The staffers told him Virginia had some of the hardest rules in the country. “They said, ‘At this stage in the game, we don’t have the resources to do this in another state when we’re contending in the early states just to survive,’” Cuccinelli relates. “And they weren’t the only camp to say that to me.”
The attorney general’s impression is that the current law “was intended to make it difficult for people who weren’t the choice of the powers that be,” though he says “I don’t know that anybody in the General Assembly now has that view.” Rather, the law has “just sat there.” And given the controversy, Cuccinelli believes there’s enough pressure to push a change through the legislature this year.