Virginia Voters: Cheated by Two-Candidate Ballot on Super Tuesday?
Voters will decide between Romney and Paul; other campaigns didn’t secure enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
In the states holding a Republican presidential primary on Super Tuesday, voters will choose among four candidates. But in Virginia, only two names will appear on the ballot: Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Some Virginia voters, who so far have donated more than $4 million to help elect a Republican president, feel a little cheated.
“The primary would have been more lively with more candidates on the GOP ballot,” conceded Anthony Bedell, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee. “That being said, the rules to get on the ballot have been in place for some time. All the campaigns were aware of the rules and what they had to do to qualify for the ballot on March 6th.”
“It's odd for major candidates to not make the ballot, but voters shouldn't feel ‘cheated.’ We're all going to get a lot of attention come the fall,” said Stephen Bragaw, a government professor at Sweet Briar College near Lynchburg. “Plus, for supporters of Ron Paul, he finally gets his ‘one on one’ against a frontrunner.”
The last GOP presidential primary in Virginia saw Paul best Romney, among a larger group of candidates. While John McCain got 50 percent of the vote and Mike Huckabee 41 percent, Paul got 4.5 percent and Romney 3.7 percent, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Virginia Voters Not Too Focused on Super Tuesday
"Voters are being shortchanged by having only two names on the ballot," said Mark Rozell, professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. "The restrictive GOP ballot access procedures have rendered the primary in Virginia almost a non-event."
This year, "Virginia is not seriously in play in the GOP primary," Rozell said. "Thus, the results here will largely be ignored by national media. A Romney victory here will be taken as a given. All the focus will be on other states. Too bad—because Virginia has played an important role in the past. In 2000 on the GOP side, Bush and McCain were in a stiff battle, and the Bush win in the state solidified his path to the nomination. Given the long drawn-out competition this year, Virginia could have been a big player in the process."
Gainesville resident Rachel Suson, visiting the Alexandria waterfront this week with 9-month-old daughter Bella, said she does not plan to vote in the primary, because it’s too hard to take off from work. She said if she were voting, it would be for Ron Paul. “I’m not really a Republican or a Democrat,” she said.
Walter “Tripp” Howell of Alexandria also has one foot in both parties, saying this week that although he is a longtime supporter of Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, he also supports Romney for president and plans to vote for him on Tuesday. “I’m satisfied with Mitt Romney; he’s a businessman,” he said.
Springfield resident Chris Mayer, who called himself “on the fence politically,” said he probably will not vote in the primary. “Politics lately has been disappointing,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what we do, we get the same result.”
The fact that there are only two candidates on the ballot hasn’t registered with some Virginia voters, a quick street survey this week showed. One of those potential voters was Jennifer Schulz of Alexandria who said she’s “leaning toward” Santorum, but hadn’t realized he was not going to be on the ballot Tuesday. “I don’t want to vote for Romney and definitely not Ron Paul,” she said.
Bob King of Alexandria, watching the ducks paddle in the water on the Alexandria waterfront Thursday with 17-month grandson Dylan, said he’s not particularly satisfied with any of the GOP candidates, but wishes he could somehow mix them all together to make the perfect candidate.
King said he is disillusioned with the Republican Party. “It’s an absolute joke,” he said. “The process in Virginia is ludicrous.” He said he doesn't believe primaries in general are reflective of the population at large.
Mike Ambrose of Falls Church, echoed those same sentiments, and said he might be out of town Tuesday and isn’t sure if he’ll vote. He called the Republican primary ballot “a little bizarre” and said infighting among Republicans was playing into Democrats’ hands.
“It’s just the whole thing is extremely frustrating right now,” Ambrose said. “We seem to be battling ourselves instead of talking about the issues.”
Gingrich Campaign: Virginia Ballot Issue an ‘Unexpected Setback’
Virginia’s rules require each campaign to secure 400 signatures in each of the Commonwealth’s 11 congressional districts. Ballot Access News reported that Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry would have qualified had the state Republican Party not double-checked the validity of the signatures. Ballot Access News reported that the party only started verifying signatures in 2011, after being sued previously.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has since taken himself out of the race, filed a lawsuit against the state Board of Elections—later joined by Gingrich, Santorum, Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann—to appear on the primary ballot, but was unsuccessful.
“I’m sorry it’s a limited choice for voters,” said Oakton resident Jayne Young, president of the New Providence Republican Women. “They all had a level playing ground. All the candidates were playing from the same rules, they knew what was required, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy or that it’s doable. Virginia is known as one of the toughest states to get your name on the ballot.”
How difficult was it to get on the ballot? Gingrich’s campaign likened Virginia’s signature-gathering process to Pearl Harbor. “Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941,” campaign director Michael Krull wrote on the Gingrich Facebook page. “We have experienced an unexpected set-back, but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action. Throughout the next months there will be ups and downs; there will be successes and failures; there will be easy victories and difficult days — but in the end we will stand victorious.”
Gingrich turned in signatures but officials could not verify all of them. “We hired somebody who turned in false signatures,” Gingrich told the media afterward. Santorum did not attempt to gather signatures.
Nevertheless, that still leaves political donors like Kevin and Liza Hutchinson of Old Town Alexandria, who donated $5,000 to the Gingrich campaign in October according to Federal Election Commission records, out in the cold come Tuesday, unable to vote for their candidate in the primary.
“If Gingrich’s backers should be angry with anyone it should be with Gingrich,” said Rich Galen, a former top aide to Gingrich when he was speaker and currently a columnist and Republican strategist. “Remember how he crowed about not needing a traditional campaign nor a traditional staff? He hired some firm to gather the signatures and the firm got caught, as I understand it, cheating and he didn't make the ballot. Romney and Paul figured it out. Statewide candidates in Virginia figure it out all the time. He has no one to blame but himself.”
No Write-Ins Allowed
And for anyone thinking of writing in a candidate’s name on the ballot, think again. The Virginia State Board of Elections has issued the following memo to all election officials: "No ballot issued during the Republican Primary on March 6, 2012 will contain an area where a write-in name may be entered. In the case of electronic voting equipment, the option for a write-in vote has been disabled. In the case of paper ballots, if a name is written in a blank area on a ballot, or a name is scratched through and another is inserted, it will not register as a vote. In no way will defacement of an official ballot be tallied as a vote for any person other than those candidates currently listed."
So, should Virginia voters feel cheated? "Cheated is…too strong a word,” said Northern Virginia tea party member John Jaggers. “Concern is a better way to put it.”
“I don’t feel cheated in that these were the rules ahead of time, and they knew them,” said Mark Kelly, former chairman of the Arlington County Republicans.
“Four years ago Republicans didn’t seem to have problems getting the signatures to get on the ballot,” Kelly said. “While I'd certainly like to have as many choices as possible, at the end of the day… the rules are the rules. That speaks to me. I have spoken to other Republicans who feel cheated. I would hope they would come and vote anyway.”
“Usually, to turn people out in a primary you have to work to do that,” he said. “I haven't gotten the first phone call from either campaign.”
Patch editors Jason Spencer and Nicole Trifone contributed to this report.