Virginia’s ballot-access debacle

Virginia will hold its Republican presidential primary on Super Tuesday (March 6), it would appear to be one of the more important contests. But the state’s unwise ballot-access laws have ensured that Virginia will be largely ignored.

By late Thursday, it looked as if Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry had collected the necessary signatures and would join Mitt Romney and Ron Paul on the Virginia GOP ballot. On Saturday morning, we learned otherwise.

Newt Gingrich will not appear on the Virginia presidential primary ballot, state Republican Party officials announced Saturday, after he failed to submit the required number of valid signatures to qualify.

The announcement was made on the Virginia Republican Party’s Twitter account. On Friday evening, the Republican Party of Virginia made a similar announcement for Governor Rick Perry of Texas.

Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Santorum also came up short, which leaves Paul and Romney as the only GOP candidates whose names will appear on the primary ballot.

For Gingrich, this is a rather awkward setback. He expected to do very well in Virginia — Gingrich has, after all, lived in the state for many years — and assured supporters on Thursday that his name would be on the ballot. Complicating matters, the Gingrich campaign responded to the news by saying it would “pursue an aggressive write-in campaign,” not realizing that this is forbidden under Virginia election law.

Oops.

Making matters slightly worse, Gingrich’s campaign director posted an item to Facebook that said, “Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941: We have experienced an unexpected set-back, but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action.”

Yes, after having been denied a ballot slot, Gingrich’s thoughts turned to Pearl Harbor. There’s a good reason I describe the disgraced former House Speaker as a lousy historian.

But this story is about more than just Gingrich’s failure. The larger point is that Virginia has ridiculous ballot-access laws, which will exclude five of the seven Republican presidential candidates from even appearing on the state’s ballot. If all seven had qualified, Virginia would have been home to a spirited contest — with candidates making many appearances, buying plenty of ads, and making lots of state-focused promises.

Instead, Virginia has made itself irrelevant in the Republican nominating contest.