Don’t Blame Romney for Ballot Trouble

December 27th, 2011 at 12:43 am | 41 Comments |

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The Republican Party of Virginia is on the verge of the appearance of a significant scandal. Allegations, fueled by a post by Richard Winger at Ballot Access News, are swirling, suggesting that the Virginia GOP changed the rules for the validation of signatures in October 2011:

But what has not been reported is that in the only other presidential primaries in which Virginia required 10,000 signatures (2000, 2004, and 2008) the signatures were not checked. Any candidate who submitted at least 10,000 raw signatures was put on the ballot. In 2000, five Republicans qualified: George Bush, John McCain, Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer, and Steve Forbes. In 2004 there was no Republican primary in Virginia. In 2008, seven Republicans qualified: John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Alan Keyes [Not actually on the 2008 ballot--FB].

The only reason the Virginia Republican Party checked the signatures for validity for the current primary is that in October 2011, an independent candidate for the legislature, Michael Osborne, sued the Virginia Republican Party because it did not check petitions for its own members, when they submitted primary petitions. Osborne had no trouble getting the needed 125 valid signatures for his own independent candidacy, but he charged that his Republican opponent’s primary petition had never been checked, and that if it had been, that opponent would not have qualified. The lawsuit, Osborne v Boyles, cl 11-520-00, was filed in Bristol County Circuit Court. It was filed too late to be heard before the election, but is still pending. The effect of the lawsuit was to persuade the Republican Party to start checking petitions. If the Republican Party had not changed that policy, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry would be on the 2012 ballot.

Obviously, sudden changes in standards for petitions to get on the ballot can raise a lot of questions.

However, in the 2008 presidential cycle, none other than Erick Erickson was actually complaining about the GOP checking the signatures on the petitions of presidential candidates:

Romney, Fred, Rudy, McCain, Huckabee, and Paul all filed over 15,000 signatures each – well above the recommended minimums.

So what did the Virginia GOP do? Well, they did absolutely nothing to help any of the candidates other than put out clipboards at their state fair booth.

Then they decided to attempt some kind of unprecedented “verification” process. Historically, forms have never been checked by either party, often they never even open the boxes. They gave no one notice of this new process. They sent all the campaigns an email notice the Friday afternoon after they’d all filed their signatures. You can see the memo below. As you can see its a ridiculous attempt to replicate Florida in 2000.

At the time, no one had any idea who the “verifiers” would be or who they supported. Likewise, everyone had questions on what did and did not constitute legitimate signatures. All the campaigns had to lawyer up against their own party. The Executive Director of the Virginia GOP had the nerve to pace the room, during the verification process, in a referee jersey. Likewise, the process for verification changed throughout the day, despite the party sending out its guidelines ahead of time in writing.

So there may have been some verification in the 2008 cycle after all.

Moreover, Richard Winger, in an email to me, admits that the signatures were put through some verification process in 2007. The 2007 checking was “to see how many signatures there were from each U.S. House district, and also how many there were statewide.” Winger also believes that the signatures were checked to see if they were notarized (a key requirement for Virginia). He says that signatures were not cross-checked with voter registration forms to ensure that petition signers actually lived in their stated addresses. (I have reached out to VA GOP officials involved in the 2007 count but have not yet heard back from any.)

So there are a few outstanding facts here:

  • You need 10,000 verified signatures (with at least 400 signatures from each Congressional District) in order to get on the Virginia Republican primary ballot. These signatures must be notarized. This requirement has been in place for over a decade.
  • In 2007, most of the major GOP candidates submitted over 15,000 signatures and were on the ballot.
  • In 2011, Mitt Romney submitted more than 15,000 signatures and is on the ballot.
  • Ron Paul submitted around 15,000 signatures and is on the ballot.
  • Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry submitted under 12,000 signatures each (fewer than the major candidates of 2008), but were disqualified.

On the last point, the main question is why?

This is where the Republican Party of Virginia can come in and save its reputation.

If Gingrich or Perry were disqualified because they did not get 400 signatures from each Congressional District, it would seem as though the enforcement regime has not materially changed in the past few months (since the same standard was used in 2008).

If Gingrich or Perry were disqualified because enough signatures were not notarized, it would seem as though the enforcement regime has not materially changed in the past few months (since the same standard was used in 2008).

Under either circumstance, there would seem insufficient evidence to claim that any “dirty tricks” occurred.

However, there are plenty of permutations under which “dirty tricks” could have occurred. Only further information can help us sort this out.

Unless there is some legal limitation, it is imperative for the Virginia GOP to make clear exactly why Gingrich and Perry were disqualified. If it can be clearly established that Gingrich’s and Perry’s campaigns did not follow long-standing rules, then it seems hard (if not impossible) to claim a pro-Romney conspiracy. It seems clear the Gingrich campaign was not particularly familiar with the rules of the Virginia primary, as Gingrich’s declaration that he would run as a write-in demonstrates; write-in candidacies are not allowed in the Virginia GOP primary. Moreover, I have seen a few reports suggesting that some of Perry’s signatures were not properly notarized. So it’s possible that they ran afoul of the rules due not to a sinister conspiracy but due to sloppiness. But I don’t know, and neither do those alleging a conspiracy.

Instead of rumors, we need facts. Instead of spin, we need information.

(NB: None of this is an endorsement of the rules Virginia puts in place for getting on the primary ballot. Also, all this is very contingent on information as it comes in.)

(There is an electoral side to this as well. One might tip one’s hat at the success of the Perrysphere and Gingrichsphere in shifting the conversation away from the fact that neither campaign could manage to get enough signatures in a significant Super Tuesday state to avoid this debacle—that Fred Thompson’s campaign (an operation not noted for its efficiency) outmatched both Gingrich’s and Perry’s teams. Instead of a narrative of organizational incompetence, they have put forward one of conspiratorial victimization. Whether or not the Virginia GOP is engaged in “dirty tricks,” it’s quite clear that Barack Obama’s team in 2012 will pull no procedural punches. A Republican candidate ill-equipped to fight back on the procedural level is not very likely to sit in the Oval Office.)

Originally Posted at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Recent Posts by Fred Bauer



41 Comments so far ↓

  • Graychin

    To be awarded the presidency, you need to play every angle. Remember Bush v. Gore?

    It isn’t who votes that counts. It’s who counts the votes.

  • COProgressive

    Fred Bauer wrote;
    If Gingrich or Perry were disqualified because enough signatures were not notarized, it would seem as though the enforcement regime has not materially changed in the past few months (since the same standard was used in 2008).

    First, Gingrich isn’t serious about running for president. In fact, there will be a number of little missteps and errors, like his campaign staff quiting on him before he and his wife dropped the campaign to go on a cruise of the Greek isles. Don’t bother about campaign staff, go on television and proclaim that he will be the nominee, and tell voters at a meet and greet that he can’t be bought because he already makes too much money and he get an Iowan’s years salary for 45 minutes of pontificating.

    Gingrich simply doesn’t want to be president. He’s a celebrity! He’s running for higher speaking fees and larger book sales. Gingrich is running for the good of Gingrich Inc.

    Now Perry, well he hasn’t a snowballs chance in Hell anyway. Who in their right mind would want to vote for another dumb Governor for Tejas?

    So what happened in Virgina? Nothing important.

    • zaybu

      “Gingrich simply doesn’t want to be president. He’s a celebrity! He’s running for higher speaking fees and larger book sales. Gingrich is running for the good of Gingrich Inc.”

      Now replace every “Gingrich” with “Donald Trump” when and if The Donald decides to run.

  • busboy33

    Let me make sure I understand the concern of the article . . .

    10,000 validated signatures are required to get on the ballot. The concern here is that the State GOP might have done something radical for this election cycle in response to the mentioned lawsuit. The alleged action? Check to make sure the signatures were valid.

    Is this a shift in the rules? No — the signatures always had to be valid. This would be the shocking and radical change of actually enforcing the long-standing rules. The GOP, the party that has been screaming about voter fraud, checked to make sure Mickey Mouse didn’t sign the petition.

    This is a big concern for the GOP. It is remarkably unfair to expect Newt and Rick to both understand the rules and comply with them. The long-standing occurrence of being able to file false signatures with impunity is a hallowed tradition, and the State GOP should be ashamed of itself for expecting candidates to obey the laws.

    Do I have that right? Because if I do, I’d like to respectfully suggest that the GOP might want to consider if this episode indicates a perhaps slightly more serious issue that y’all ought to think about looking at.

    • Nanotek

      you have it right, indeed.

    • elizajane

      But it’s only Democrats (especially non-white ones) who commit voter fraud!!

    • Reflection Ephemeral

      I dunno, that seems a little harsh. How about, Gingrich and Perry were accustomed to driving 5 miles over the speed limit, because no one had been ticketed for years unless they were doing at least 15 over. Then this year, Virginia started ticketing everybody. They were acting in technical violation of the rules, but in line with longstanding expectations.

      Plus, getting your name on the ballot isn’t quite “voter fraud”, it doesn’t seem to me.

      Obviously, tho, Virginia’s GOP is free to enforce the rules as they please. It’s their rules.

      • Houndentenor

        So if a law isn’t enforced strongly enough, we aren’t obligated to follow it? That makes no sense. It’s illegal to drive over the speed limit. If you get a ticket, I wouldn’t recommend using, “but I always drive that fast in that section of the highway” as a legal defense. Now if we need to change the law, that’s a different (and perhaps worthy) topic. But the fact that no one bothered to check these signatures is shameful that they didn’t do it before, not shameful that they finally got around to making sure all the signers were indeed real people.

        Yes, this is a form of voter fraud. The law requires a certain number of signatures (from registered voters in that state, one presumes) in order to get on the ballot. Is that number too high or too low? Take that up with whoever makes those rules. But arguing that invalid signatures ought to count anyway? Preposterous!

        • Reflection Ephemeral

          “What the law requires” is often rather a separate matter from “common practice”. I didn’t argue that the ticket would be invalid, just unexpected.

          I thought this was a GOP rule, not a Virginia law. Even if I’m wrong about that, it doesn’t change the larger argument.

          Which is just: maybe Newt & Perry were both poorly prepared and unluckily targeted, rather than just being poorly prepared.

        • Traveler

          For a normally sensible commenter, you are quite the Pollyanna here. We have all sorts of laws that many of us don’t follow. According to statistics, 9% of the populace shoplift. For sure, most drivers don’t follow speed limit laws. Like most of us, I speed but I don’t shoplift. Different stokes for different folks. So to expect perfect compliance is really quite specious.

        • Houndentenor

          No, we don’t live in a police state. You’re not going to get caught every time you commit a traffic violation. But that’s no excuse when you do get caught. You knew the rules. You broke them. You got caught. You pay the penalty. The fact that you got away with it all the other times is irrelevant on the time you got caught.

          But this is different. In situations like this, the rules should be enforced every time. This is about a few people checking the lists for all candidates who want on the ballot, not expecting police to be on every street corner 24/7.

        • Traveler

          Agree with you there for the most part Hound. But I go through radar traps all the time, and I know exactly what the cops will permit, and set my cruise 1 mph lower. So its not lack of police as you aver, its explicit lack of will. This is because traffic is acceptably safe at those speeds, so cops are not about to get in the way unless they see poor driving. There were certain stretches where the supposed limit was much lower (where cops trained), and everyone knew it. Funny to watch drivers mellowing down from 77 to 66 on these stretches.

          This is kind of what RE was talking about. But I agree that voter fraud is unacceptable. Still don’t know how that happens with notaries though. Thoughts?

          BTW, how did you come up with such an interesting name? Nothing on Google the last time I looked.

        • Houndentenor

          And in those cases where you sped knowing you were unlikely to get a ticket, you took that chance. People often break laws when they have good reason to believe they won’t get caught. For that matter I assume that most people who break the law think they are going to get away with it. None of that is a legal defense.

          As for my name, it’s an in-joke. About 10 years ago a soprano on a forum for classically trained singers was calling herself Off-Coloratura. It’s a reference to the P.D.Q. Bach (Peter Schickele’s classical music parody persona) opera “The Stoned Guest”. At the end of the opera the characters are saved by a St. Bernard, who is described in the score as a Houndentenor. The name stuck and I have been using it all over the internet ever since.

        • busboy33

          @Traveler:

          “So its not lack of police as you aver, its explicit lack of will. This is because traffic is acceptably safe at those speeds, so cops are not about to get in the way unless they see poor driving.”

          Gotta disagree with you about this. In my experience, the reason cops usually give a 6mph window (61 in a 55) is because its damn hard to prove a speeding case in court within that range. Radar guns have a +/- leeway, as do speedometers. Combine the two and its virtually impossible to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver knew or should have known they were in violation of the law. As a result, most States set minor speed violations to be a small fine to encourage people to just pony up some cash quickly rather than fight it. If they do fight, its not cost-efective for the State to spend hundreds of dollars (not to mention the cost in man-hours) to prosecute those cases, so they just don’t bother.

          No doubt the fact that even the cops don’t think its a danger is a major factor, but don’t underestimate the technical difficulty and cost factors as well.

        • dugfromthearth

          Random enforcement of the law is allowed – you don’t ticket everyone speeding, just ones the cops see. But arbitrary enforcement is not allowed – ticketing only brown skinned people.

        • Houndentenor

          Not really. Okay, in the case of only stopping certain groups of people for speeding and not others, that would indeed not be allowed. (Or cause problems if it were discovered.)

          But I remember in 1996 that the NY State GOP was putting up ridiculously difficult signature requirements for anyone to get on the ballot except for Bob Dole. The parties can do pretty much whatever they want. They don’t even have to hold primaries (and didn’t universally until the 1970s or so). Is there evidence that different standards were applied to different candidates? That’s a legitimate complaint. “I didn’t know you actually meant to require what you listed as requirements” is not.

      • busboy33

        @Reflection Ephemeral:

        “I always speed on this road. I’ve been speeding for years! Breaking the law is my privilege at this point. This speeding ticket isn’t my fault (despite my previous confession) . . . its the cops!”

        I’m not saying Newt/Rick are morally reprehensible. We can differ on whether this is comparable to driving 2 miles over the limit or 20 miles over the limit — if we take Newt’s pre-debacle claims of 11,500+ signatures at face value, then more than 15% of his signatures were bad. Is that a lot or a little? Is that acceptable speeding, or reckless? What’s the quantifiable value of how far over the limit is too much? Surely 100 in a 55 zone is too much, but what about 75? 65?

        The point is, its speeding. That’s against the rules. I speed myself all the time . . . and when I get a speeding ticket, its my fault, not the cops for catching me. I broke the rules, not the cops. That I got away with it yesterday doesn’t excuse my doing it today. Actually, the logic of that is a bit puzzling. The core of the argument is that its the authorities fault for failing to enforce the rules, and that’s why we’re complaining that they are . . . enforcing the rules? They are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

        Moreover, it betrays my contempt for the rules. I speed because I consciously choose to ignore the rules. The argument in the original post is that Newt and Rick should have expected that they were permitted to break the rules. They are entitled to ignore rules because enforcement is lax. That speaks poorly of not only their ethics, but the ethics of their defenders. Thinking enforcement is lax might encourage me to get away with it, but that’s a damn sight different than thinking its not still wrong.

        • Traveler

          Hi Busboy,

          thanks for your response at 3:51, but it doesn’t seem to accord here in the East. The PA turnpike for years had 55 mph and 65 mph sections. People went 75 in the former, and 78 in the latter. This is way beyond the 5% variation. Cops just didn’t think it was a big deal. Believe me, if they enforced it, I guarantee you drivers would quickly learn the new limit, and drive accordingly. Same thing happens in NJ. 195 used to be 63 at 55, when raised to 65, it became 74, and now its 78 or so. I go through traps all the time so I know what I am talking about. But if caught, I fess up. I don’t BS them. Thankfully, cops often cut me a break. Twice in the last 3 years I have been popped, but no points for me.

          So it is a matter of selective enforcement that transcends accuracy errors. This is what RE and I have been saying all along. We both agree that you are absolutely right in that voting registration is a much brighter line, and so the analogy is not appropriate in terms of responsibility and importance. However, enforcement there may well have been lax, not that it justifies shoddy petitions. But now we see 2000 notarized signatures invalidated? That alone is major cause for perplexity. There is a bunch of funny things going on in VA.

  • Nanotek

    “Then they decided to attempt some kind of unprecedented ‘verification’ process.”

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1211/70852.html

    surely the humorous irony of the GOP hoisted with its own petar can’t escape FF…

  • dennis

    I understand the author’s argument. I don’t understand the connection between the argument and the title of this post.

    • Graychin

      I have learned through embarrassing experience that the headlines here frequently are gross misrepresentation of what the author of the piece has said.

  • Dex

    In other words, the bulk of the Republican field was counting on their fellow Republicans to turn a blind eye toward voter fraud. And, surprise! Erick Erickson also thinks that voter fraud committed by Republicans is okey-dokey.

    • PracticalGirl

      BINGO.

      If this were a Democratic primary, ErickSatan would be climbing the walls. We’d hear ACORN (regardless of culpability or involvement), fraud and “business as usual” in the nastiest terms possible.

  • PracticalGirl

    Instead of a narrative of organizational incompetence, they have put forward one of conspiratorial victimization.

    Of course they did, Fred. This is what the GOP base has been trained to snap up. Red meat, served up just the way they like it. Never mind the incompetence of the candidates, it’s the big, bad state of Virginia’s fault for having, like, standards and stuff.

    BTW: I don’t think that the State of Virginia is the party with a reputation to “save”. It’s the whining candidates who mouth “states rights” when it suits them but scream “FRAUD! UNFAIR” when they need it. It’s also a problem with a base that buys into that crap.

    • Graychin

      Consider the Virginia ballot requirements something like an entrance exam or a competency test. How is someone going to run the American government if he can’t put together a petition drive for 10,000 valid signatures? :D

  • LFC

    The questions to be answered are a little deeper than whether or not Gingirch and Perry had proper validation and why they were rejected. The big question is whether or not Romney and Paul were given similar scrutiny and actually passed the same level of verification. If the answer is “yes” then Newt and Rick can STFU. If it’s “no” then the Virginia GOP is candidate picking.

    • PracticalGirl

      The questions to be answered are a little deeper than whether or not Gingirch and Perry had proper validation and why they were rejected. The big question is whether or not Romney and Paul were given similar scrutiny and actually passed the same level of verification

      I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not sure from where it all comes. Currently, it appears to be coming from bitter Newt, who self-admits that his organization isn’t the strongest nut fallen from the tree, and Santorum, equally bitter, who also has added the charge that Virginia’s rules are tipped toward the candidates with the most money, or “not him”. But I’m having a difficult time sourcing anything other than biased opinion, leading me to wonder if this all isn’t just sour grapes.

      Mitt’s been running for President since 2007; The Paulians are legendary for their devotion to their candidate and their ability to mobilize when needed. Why jump to conspiracy first? Why can’t we go first to the natural, logical conclusion-that the two campaigns with the strongest organizations were the candidates best poised to handle a rule change, collect extra signatures just in case, and follow the process?

    • Leo

      The big question is whether or not Romney and Paul were given similar scrutiny and actually passed the same level of verification.
      Not entirely. Because you can pick and choose which rules you are going to scrutinize and which rules you are going to ignore in order to favor your candidate. Such as the literacy test on voter registration. If you chose to verify every voter on literacy but chose to ignore other rules (such as residency) you could rule out a certain class of voter while applying the same level of scrutiny to every voter.
      So it’s not just a question of just applying the same level of verification to all candidates; once you start to verify, you have to verify every rule to remain objective and fair. Moreover, the application of scrutiny needs to be transparent so that it is not only fair, but seen to be fair. And the rules must have been promulgated and known by all before they were applied. And the rules must have been approved in a democratic way by the Virginia GOP.
      The Virginia GOP faces a tough challenge to show they acted responsibly. I fear the scrutiny of the scrutineering is not going to reveal them in a favorable light.

    • busboy33

      My understanding of the complaint isn’t that Mitt and Ron filed fraudulent names, but that they were somehow tipped off that the names were going to be checked, and as result kept themselves in compliance — I’ve heard competing versions that enough signatures were valid or that they submitted so many names in excess of the requirement that they were presumed good enough (as would have happened for Newt/Rick if they had reached 15,000+ signatures).

      Mind you, I haven’t heard any evidence supporting this alleged conspiracy. But even accepting its true for the moment, I’m not sure how that changes the dynamic. Imagine a DUI checkpoint. Your buddy, a cop, tells you there is one set up tonight, so be careful. As a result, you make sure you don’t drink and drive — not that you drive drunk and they wink-n-nod passed you thru, but that you actively comply with the rules.. If I get caught driving drunk by the checkpoint, is it fair that I didn’t know I was going to get tested? The duty still lies with me not to break the rules — the only difference is whether I thought I could get away with it or not. We’ll never know if you would have driven drunk absent the warning . . . but we are certain that I would, because I did. Its not that the enforcers didn’t check everybody, its just that some people were extra careful to obey the rules.

      I can agree that a “heads up” (presuming such a thing occurred) drifts toward the unethical (at least moreso than no heads-up) , but IMO its not quite there yet. Heads up or not, we have to obey the rules or suffer the consequences. Otherwise, we’re at “well, of course I’m going to break the rules unless you specifically tell me that this time you’re serious. I do not respect your authority. By the way, please elect me the President, the person in charge of enforcing and implementing rules. I’d be great!”

  • Houndentenor

    This should be on Bravo. The Real Housewives of Wherever have nothing on this sideshow.

  • indy

    If Gingrich and Perry submitted 12000 signatures and only 10000 are required to be valid, doesn’t this imply that they each submitted petitions with at least 2000 fake signatures? Wouldn’t this make each of them, along with their supporters, participants in two of the largest cases of voter fraud ever? What have I missed?

    • balconesfault

      What’s the GOP equivalent of ACORN?

      Oh wait – this is even worse than ACORN contractors submitting fraudulent voter registration forms. Those actually had no impact on any elections.

      Had they been accepted, Gingrich’s and Perry’s fraudulent petition signatures would have had an impact.

    • Traveler

      Responded to this yesterday, but didn’t make the cut. So here goes again.

      How could 2,000 notarized signatures possibly be invalidated? Notaries check ID. How were the IDs used for that found to be invalid? Either VA has nearly 20% fake licenses, or the same percentage of notaries were fraudulent. Either way, very hard to buy.

  • sweatyb

    Can’t we try to have at least one article a day on Frum Forum that isn’t about the second-rate horse race that is the Republican Primary campaign? Sure, it’s fun to point out the myriad hypocrisies of Gingrich, Romney’s lack of character, Paul’s odd-ball antics, or the pointlessness of Santorum (and the fact that none of them stand a chance of winning the general election).

    But do we really need to do it multiple times a day?

    There’s a lot happening in the world. The caucuses in Iowa aren’t for another week. And the candidates haven’t done anything novel or interesting since Herman Cain dropped out.

  • FredfromVaBeach

    I was one of the volunteers who collected signatures for Romney. I had contributed to his campaign and I was contacted by one of his people from Richmond. I was mailed the petition forms and had no trouble finding people willing to support him at two voting locations. I was surprised to not find anyone representing any of the other Republican candidates. I would have obtained signatures for any of the other candidates if asked. If you can’t get 10,000 people to support you then maybe you aren’t serious about running.

  • gover

    It’s starting to look like Romney will be the clear front runner by the end of February. A real shame. The Republican primary race has been the funniest comedy show I’ve seen since they cancelled WKRP.

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