Less than twenty-four hours ago, Fox News reported that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is planning to intervene in Virginia’s presidential primary process by filing a bill to allow more candidates on the March 6th ballot.
In case you haven’t been following the story, let me give you a bit of background. Virginia requires candidates seeking to be on the Virginia statewide ballot to collect signatures from 10,000 registered voters in the commonwealth, with at least 400 coming from each of Virginia’s eleven congressional districts. It is one of the most stringent requirements of any state in the nation. Four of the Republican Presidential candidates submitted signatures by the December 22nd deadline and the Republican Party of Virginia deemed that only two of these candidates, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, filed a sufficient number of valid signatures.
On the surface, the idea of allowing more of the candidates to appear on the ballot seems perfectly valid. After all, offering the maximum number of choices will allow a voter to pick the candidate that best matches his or her ideology rather than selecting among the “lesser of two evils”, which, unfortunately, is often the only choice presented.
However, upon closer examination, the Attorney General’s campaign appears to be misguided. The Republican Party of Virginia set out the requirements for the candidates well in advance on the December 22nd deadline. Bring us 10,000 valid signatures and you are in; fail to do so and tough luck. Although not all of the details are completely clear, we do know that Romney, Paul, Gingrich, and Perry each submitted signatures by December 22nd, while the other candidates did not. Romney, by virtue of submitting over 15,000 signatures, was declared an official candidate without requiring checking his signatures. After scrutiny, Paul met the mark. Both Gingrich and Perry fell short as a result of some combination of either not submitting a sufficient number, including voters who did not properly fill out the form, not having the formed properly notarized, and/or by using signature collectors who were not registered voters in Virginia.
Now, as stated earlier, one can certainly argue that Virginia’s requirements to get on the statewide ballot are too high. That topic is a reasonable point that ought to be discussed. However, that matter should have been addressed prior to the point at which candidates were certified for the ballot. Why did no one raise a big fuss until after the votes were counted? Was the process fair and reasonable until certain preferred candidates were excluded?
To draw a parallel, this situation reminds me of grade school students participating in either an academic or athletic competition. After the event is over and their kid ends up losing, parents scream to either the referee or the administration that the process was rigged and his or her kid would have won if only the rules were fair (i.e. laid out in such a way as to favor him). In the parents’ minds it is irrelevant that the agreed upon rules were followed and clearly explained ahead of time. Principles don’t matter; winning is everything!
Would I have liked to see more candidates on Virginia’s ballot? Sure. When it comes to elections, I’m pro-choice. As I’ve written previously, I collected signatures for both Paul and Johnson and signed forms for every candidate who asked. So then was I disappointed to discover that Gary Johnson would not be on the ballot? Of course! Nevertheless, as the rules were clearly stated, the proper course of action wasn’t to fume and shout, demanding that the Republican Party of Virginia break the agreed upon standards just because the results were not quite what I hoped. What sorts of arguments can Gingrich and Perry offer in their defense? We didn’t expect you to review our signatures. You would have never known that we were cheating if you didn’t check our work! Do you consider these excuses valid?
By stepping into this mess, I worry that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli doesn’t have as strong a framework regarding the rule of law as I had hoped. Don’t get me wrong; if the process is too hard, then it should be changed prior to the next statewide signature collection process, the 2012 Senate race. However, one shouldn’t go back and tinker with the December 22nd results. That event is over and, be it for better or worse, Perry and Gingrich competed under the stated rules and lost. They should not be retroactively given the chance to compete after legitimately failing the required drug test.
Election laws should not be changed on a whim. Even worse, they must not be modified after the results are tabulated and announced. Although such a move is common among third-world despots, I’d like to think that Virginians have a bit more respect for free and fair election processes. Therefore, for the sake of our electoral process, I must oppose the actions of any elected official who is trying to make a mockery of the December 22nd result, even if it happens to be one of my favorite leaders, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. I sincerely hope that he realizes the ramifications of his actions and reverses course before it is too late.