Published December 31, 2011
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is intervening in his state's presidential primary dispute and plans to file emergency legislation to address the inability of most Republican presidential candidates to get their name on the ballot, Fox News has learned.
Meanwhile, four GOP candidates on Saturday joined fellow candidate Rick Perry's lawsuit against the state, urging the Board of Elections to either allow them on the ballot or at least refrain from taking any action until a Jan. 13 court hearing.
Only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul qualified for the Virginia primary, a contest with 49 delegates up for grabs. Perry and the four candidates joining the lawsuit -- Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman -- did not.
The failure of other candidates to qualify led to complaints that the 10,000-signature requirement is too stringent.
Cuccinelli, who is a Republican, shared the concerns and plans to take them to the legislature while the candidates work through the courts.
"Recent events have underscored that our system is deficient," he said in a statement Saturday. "Virginia owes her citizens a better process. We can do it in time for the March primary if we resolve to do so quickly."
Cuccinelli's proposal is expected to state that if the Virginia Board of Elections certifies that a candidate is receiving federal matching funds, or has qualified to receive them, that candidate will upon request be automatically added to the ballot.
Two former Democratic attorneys general are backing the move, along with a former Democratic state party chairman and a former Republican state party chairman.
Former state Attorney General Tony Troy called the Virginia process a "legal and constitutional embarrassment." Fellow former top Virginia prosecutor Steve Rosenthal said: "This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. If it takes emergency legislation, then we need to do it."
A spokesman for Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell appeared to defend the state's strict ballot rules, but opened the door to reexamining them.
"Virginia's laws regarding ballot access are well known and have been in place for many years," spokesman Tucker Martin said. "All candidates seeking to be listed on the Virginia primary ballot in a statewide race have known the requirements well in advance. ... It is unfortunate that this year, for whatever reasons, some Republican candidates did not even attempt to make the Virginia ballot, while others fell short of submitting the required number of valid signatures."
Still, Martin said, "That leaves Virginia voters with only two Republican choices in the March primary, and the governor certainly would have preferred a broader field. He is always open to reviewing how Virginia's primary system can be improved to provide voters with more choices."
He said that if the legislature takes action, "the governor would review those changes thoroughly."
The Virginia Republican Party offered a robust defense of the existing rules, saying candidates had plenty of notice and were urged to collect 15,000 signatures just to be safe.
"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 party said. "The party will discuss the specific nature of their shortfalls if necessary. But the failure of (Perry and Gingrich) 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."
Perry's campaign applauded Cuccinelli in a statement Saturday afternoon.
"Virginia's onerous and restrictive ballot access rules do create serious constitutional problems and undermine the rights of citizens and candidates," the campaign said.