Virginia GOP Didn't Check 2008 Prez Primary Petitions Against Voter Rolls, Says Board of Elections Chair

By Terence P. Jeffrey | December 30, 2011 | 11:15 AM EST

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. (AP Photo)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. (AP Photo)

( - Virginia Board of Elections Chairman Charles Judd, who in 2008 served as executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, says that in 2008 the party did not check to see if the signatures submitted by presidential candidates seeking a place on that year’s Virginia primary ballot matched up with the names of registered voters in the state.

Judd told that in certifying the candidates’ ballot petitions, in keeping with Virginia's ballot-access law, what the state party did do was check that the people carrying the petitions for the campaigns had filled them out correctly and that the people who signed the petitions had properly filled out all the information required of them on the petition forms. This included--in addition to their signatures—their printed names and addresses and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.

“What we did not do is get on the database and check their voter registration,” said Judd.

In that way, the 2008 process the party used for certifying presidential primary candidates differed from the process used this year. On Tuesday, Virginia Republican Party Chairman Pat Mullins told that this year the state party had used a computer database to check whether the people who signed the presidential candidates’ ballot-access petitions were in fact registered Virginia voters. Under the law, signatures from people who are not registered voters do not count.

(Later, the Republican Party of Virginia issued a statement clarifying that the individual signatures submitted by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had not been checked because he had submitted so many more than the legal threshold--in keeping with a recommendation made by the party--that checking them would not reasonably have discovered a sufficient number to knock him off the ballot.)

Only four of the Republican presidential candidates submitted signatures seeking access to Virginia’s primary ballot. They were Romney, Rep. Ron Paul, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. (Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman did not submit signatures.)

After reviewing the petitions of the candidates who had sought ballot access, Virginia GOP Chairman Mullins announced that Romney and Paul had met the state’s requirements but that Perry and Gingrich had not.

Perry is now suing in federal court seeking to be placed on Virginia’s ballot. Additionally, Jon Moseley, an attorney who heads a Tea Party organization in Fairfax County, Va., and who says his first choice for the Republican nomination is Bachmann, has filed a lawsuit in the state Circuit Court in Richmond, Va., seeking to force the state to put Gingrich on the primary ballot.

In 2008, Sen. John McCain, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani all submitted signatures seeking to qualify for Virginia’s Republican presidential primary. After the party reviewed their petitions, then-Virginia Republican Party Chairman John Hager certified that all of the candidates who had submitted signatures had met the state’s requirements and would be on the ballot.

Virginia election law requires that a candidate seeking a place on the ballot in a presidential primary must submit at least 10,000 signatures signed by people who are registered to vote in Virginia, and that these signatures must include at least 400 from each of the state’s 11 congressional districts. The law also says that the signatures must be collected by people who are eligible to vote in Virginia.

Campaigns are required to put their ballot-access petitions in sealed containers marked with their name and the number of signatures on their petitions and deliver them to the Virginia State Board of Elections by a set filing deadline. The board is then required to turn over the sealed containers to the state party chairman, who is responsible for certifying which candidates have met the signature requirements. However, the law does not specify the procedures a party chairman must use in making this determination.

“The State Board shall transmit the material so filed to the state chairman of the party of the candidate immediately after the primary filing deadline,” says the law. “The sealed containers containing the petitions for a candidate may be opened only by the state chairman of the party of the candidate. The state chairman of the party shall, by the deadline set by the State Board, furnish to the State Board the names of all candidates who have satisfied the requirements of this section."

In a telephone interview, former Virginia GOP Chairman Hager told of the 2008 certification process: “I think we did what we had to do to assure ourselves it was a proper filing in each instance."

“The process was one of assurance,” he said. “We wanted to be sure that the numbers were adequate."

Hager said that Judd had overseen the process.

“Charlie Judd was the executive director of the party at the time,” Hager said. “Charlie oversaw the process. I did not. We did spot-checking. I can’t tell you if we looked at every signature or not."

Judd explained to the process he oversaw in 2008 when the party certified the presidential primary candidates.

The review of the petitions for the 2008 primary, Judd said, took place in a large meeting room at the party’s headquarters in Richmond, Va. It began at 9:00 am and ended at about 4:00 pm. The room was equipped with 11 tables—one for each congressional district in the state—an 3 workers were assigned to each table. These workers included paid Republican Party staff and people the party had hired for the day. They had received about an hour of instruction on what they were going to do before the process started.

In the morning, the sealed boxes containing the petitions from each of the campaigns were brought into the room. The party opened them, and then representatives from the campaigns were allowed to take the petitions from the boxes and deliver them to the tables representing the districts that the petitions came from.

The workers assigned to those tables then reviewed each petition form. They checked to make sure that the person who had carried the petition had filled it out properly. Then they checked to see that all of the elements that each signer needed to fill out—their printed name and address and the last four digits of their Social Security Number, and their signature—were on the form. (After 2008, according to Judd, it became optional for a signer to put the last four digits of his or her Social Security Number on the ballot petition.)

Judd says that the people reviewing the ballots also checked for obvious problems such as all the signatures on a sheet being in the same handwriting.

In the end, he said, “very few” signatures were rejected.

Judd also noted that in addition to the fact that the state party did not check the names of the ballot-petition signatories against a voter registration database in 2008, there was also another difference between 2008 and this year: In 2008, he said, all of the candidates submitting petitions submitted more than the legally required 10,000.

This year, Judd notes, Gov. Rick Perry submitted fewer than the legally required 10,000.

The evidence for this is the legal complaint Perry filed this week against the Virginia Board of Election, which Judd chairs, and Virginia GOP Chairman Mullins.

Paragraph 18 of that complaint says: “On Dec. 22, 2011, Plaintiff submitted to the Board over 6,000 petition signatures from qualified Virginia voters."

Perry’s complaint does not focus on the number of signatures the Virginia ballot-access law requires but on the fact that the law mandates that only someone eligible to vote in Virginia can gather the signatures.

“Virginia’s requirement for petition circulators to be either eligible or registered qualified voters in the state is a severe burden on the Plaintiff’s freedoms of speech and association,” says Perry’s complaint, “because it prohibits another qualified candidate for the Office of President of the United States from circulating his own candidate petitions."

In an interview with this week, Virginia GOP Chairman Mullins said that a group of volunteers checked the signatures submitted by the candidates against a computer database of registered voters. He also said that each of the four campaigns that submitted ballot-access petitions had a representative present when the signatures were being checked and that the media was invited to attend and observe the petition-checking process.

Mullins further said that before the signatures were checked he had consulted with the general counsel of the Virginia Republican Party to insure that the party followed a process that was in keeping with what the law required. When certifying the signatures, Mullins told, the volunteers fed the addresses accompanying the signatures into a database which brought up registered voters by household.

In a statement released later this week, the Republican Party of Virginia clarified that the petitions submitted by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had not received that same “signature-by-signature scrutiny” as the other candidates because he had complied with the party’s recommendations to the campaigns that they submit at least 15,000 signatures. The statement said the party had notified the campaigns in October that those that submitted at least that many signatures would be presumed to have qualified.

“From the earliest days of the campaigns, RPV has actively told candidates that Virginia's signature requirements could be a difficult legal requirement to meet for those who were new to Virginia politics,” said the statement.

“In October 2011, RPV formally adopted the certification procedures that were applied on December 23: any candidate who submitted over 15,000 facially-valid signatures would be presumed to be in compliance with Virginia's 10,000 signature law,” the GOP statement said.

“The presumption of compliance was set at 15,000 for a variety of reasons,” said the party’s statement. “First, in the party's long experience with petitions, RPV has never encountered a situation where a candidate who submitted 15,000 signatures has failed to make the ballot (absent cases of obvious fraud)."

“Candidates were officially informed of the 15,000 rule in October 2011, well in advance of the Dec. 22 submission deadline,” said the Virginia Republican Party statement. “The rule was no surprise to any candidate--and indeed, no candidate or campaign offered any complaints until after the Dec. 23 validation process had concluded."

The statement said that only Romney surpassed the 15,000-signature threshold.

“Despite this early notice and RPV's exhortations to candidates, only one candidate availed himself of the 15,000 signature threshold--Governor Mitt Romney,” said the party’s statement. “RPV counted Governor Romney's signatures, reviewed them for facial validity, and determined he submitted well over 15,000. Never in the party's history has a candidate who submitted more than 15,000 signatures had 33 percent invalidated. The party is confident that Governor Romney met the statutory threshold."

The party added that: “Rep. Ron Paul submitted just under 15,000, and was submitted to signature-by-signature scrutiny on the same basis as the other candidates who submitted fewer than 15,000 signatures. After more than 7 hours of work, RPV determined that Rep. Paul had cleared the statutory 10,000/400 signature standard with ease."

“Two other candidates did not come close to the 10,000 valid signature threshold,” said the party’s statement. “RPV regrets that Speaker Gingrich and Governor Perry did not meet the legal requirements established by the General Assembly. Indeed, our hope was to have a full Republican field on the ballot for Republican voters to consider on March 6. The party will discuss the specific nature of their shortfalls if necessary. But the failure of these two candidates to meet the state requirements does not call into question the accuracy of the Party's certification of the two candidates who are duly qualified to appear on the ballot."

CNN reported on Wednesday that at a chocolate store in Algona, Iowa, Gingrich said that his campaign had submitted more than 11,000 signatures in Virginia but had failed to meet the 10,000-signature ballot-access threshold because someone hired to carry the petitions had committed fraud.

"We hired somebody who turned in false signatures. We turned in 11,100--we needed 10,000--1,500 of them were by one guy who frankly committed fraud," said Gingrich.

“I was not happy at all in signing that certification with only two names on it,” Virginia GOP Chairman Mullins told on Tuesday.

“Is there a balance somewhere between protecting the ballot so there are not 30 Mickey Mouse candidates on it and loosening it a little?” Mullins asked.

He said that he thinks such a balance can be struck, perhaps be requiring candidates to pay a filing fee of as much as $5,000 while submitting far fewer signatures.