Many people are aware of how difficult it is for third parties -- such as the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, or the Green Party -- to get on the ballot.
This year, it was even more difficult because of redistricting. Virginia law requires third parties to submit petitions signed by 10,000 registered voters -- and actually closer to 15,000 because many signatures are thrown out by the State Board of Elections.
But worse, due to the legislature wrangling so long over redistricting, and then additional delays caused by waiting for the Justice Department to approve the new districts, the smaller parties lost precious time to collect those 10,000 (15,000) signatures.
The reason the district were relevant to the petition was that Virginia requires presidential petitions to include the
candidates for the candidate's slate of electors. Virginia also mandates
that the petition carry the name of one candidate for elector from each
U.S. House district.
No one knew what the new district boundaries would
be until March 14, when the U.S. Justice Department approved the new
boundaries, so the minor party presidential electors were chosen based
on the old districts. The State Board of Elections had been telling
candidates to use the old boundaries.
Of course, petitioning for U.S. House candidates was also threatened by the uncertainty of the law.
is not known if there were (or are) any independent or minor party
candidates for U.S. Senate this year, but if there were (or are), and
they started petitioning based on the old districts, they were injured
also. U.S. Senate petitions, like presidential petitions, have a
distribution requirement: 400 signatures per U.S. House district.
In March 2012, the Virginia General Assembly attempted to adjust petitioning requirements for the third parties and independent candidates for the time lost by making some alterations to the petitioning process, via HB 1151. The bill said that if new U.S. House district boundaries aren't in place by the start of the even-numbered election year, petitions are valid that year whether they use the old U.S. House district boundaries or the new boundaries. The bill had an urgency clause and would have taken effect immediately upon passage. It passed on March 2.
When Virginia Governors receive a bill from the legislature, they may
sign the bill, veto the bill, or send it back to the legislature with
suggested changes. When the Governor sends back a bill with suggestions,
the legislature has one day to decide whether to accept the
recommendation or not. If the legislature takes no action, the bill is
enacted anyway; it is not vetoed.
When HB 1151 reached his desk, however, Republicrat Governor McDonnell sent the bill back to the legislature on April 9 -- at the very last minute -- and asked for changes, among them to make it effective in 2013, not immediately. This made it utterly meaningless for third parties.
McDonnell didn't stop there -- he proposed changes so it would specifically NOT apply to any petition to place minor party or independent presidential candidates on the ballot, now or in the future. Unfortunately, in a one-day session on April 18, the legislature agreed to the Governor's recommendation.
The changes McDonnell demanded to HB 1151 were shockingly unfair. The Libertarian and Green Parties had already started circulating their presidential petitions based on what they were hearing from the General Assembly and the State Board of Elections.
Even though neither party had selected their presidential nominees, Virginia allows stand-in presidential and vice-presidential candidates ("substitution"). The right of substitution was established by El-Amin v Virginia State Board of Elections,
a reported US District Court decision from 1989 that says the US
Constitution requires Virginia to let unqualified parties, and even
committees supporting an independent candidate, engage in substitution.
Under Virginia law, the window for circulating petitions is supposed to open for third parties on January 1 of a presidential election year.
So to begin with, redistricting cheated third parties out of their petitioning time from January 1 through the end of the redistricting process on March 14; then McDonnell cheated them out of additional petitioning time until April 18, when the General Assembly finalized it actions on HB 1151.
Without McDonnell's changes, HB 1151 would have compensated third parties for the nearly four months they were forced by law to sit and wait. McDonnell's changes denied the parties the compensation they were due; and ruined any petitioning work done until that point.
Third parties have often brought new ideas into the marketplace of ideas -- oftentimes ideas that the major parties don't wish to address. Why make it difficult for them to participate in the political process?
I was under the impression that we were all agreed that the will of the voters must be obeyed, and what you did was to throw out the will of thousands of voters who had signed their names to get the Greens and Libertarians on the ballot.
My question is why?
McDonnell's hostile action was intrinsically hurtful, and it was also hurtful for him to wait until the very last day to send in a recommendation. The action was not posted on the legislature’s web page until the afternoon of April 10.
This author spoke with Governor McDonnell twice to encourage him to sign HB 1151 as the General Assembly originally passed it; obviously to no avail.
McDonnell changed the legislation to interfere with the third parties ballot drives and to financially injure them - an act that is stupid in a third-world backwater dictatorship, but utterly insane and anti-freedom in a first-world country that prides itself on a supposed history of treating all political viewpoints as equal under the law.
As a result of McDonnell's changes, the State Board of Elections invalidated 2,000 signatures on LPVA presidential nominating petitions. The Green Party of Virginia estimated that 1,000 of its signatures were likewise invalidated. In addition GPVA estimates that an additional 1,000 signatures obtained by another minor party, the Virginia Independent Greens, on behalf of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein were invalidated -- through no fault of their own.
The third parties in Virginia are interested in filing a suit to overturn the recently enacted statute. In April, the Libertarian Party of Virginia authorized its participation in such a lawsuit; the party has been seeking a suitable local counsel to file it.