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Virginia Attorney General Backs Off Call to Change Ballot Rules Before Primary

FILE: Virginia Attorney General Ken CuccinelliAP

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is backing off a push to change his state's election rules before the March 6 presidential primary, after only two Republican candidates qualified for the ballot. 

The attorney general on Saturday had said he wanted to overhaul the process before the primary, calling the state's system "deficient." Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry were locked out of the Virginia ballot after failing to meet the state's signature requirement, while three other candidates did not even try to meet the requirement. 

But by late Sunday, Cuccinelli had abandoned plans to file emergency legislation to address the matter, saying it wouldn't be fair to the two candidates -- Mitt Romney and Ron Paul -- who did qualify by submitting at least 10,000 valid petition signatures. 

"After working through different scenarios with Republican and Democratic leaders to attempt to make changes in time for the 2012 presidential election, my concern grows that we cannot find a way to make such changes fair to the Romney and Paul campaigns that qualified even with Virginia's burdensome system," Cuccinelli said. 

He added that changing the rules at this point "is inconsistent with respecting and preserving the rule of law -- something I am particularly sensitive to as Virginia's attorney general." 

The top Virginia prosecutor nevertheless reiterated his criticism of the state's system and said the ballot requirements should eventually be changed -- just not for the 2012 season. For subsequent contests, he said, "I will vigorously support efforts to reduce the hurdles to ballot access in Virginia for all candidates." 

Cuccinelli had initially joined with other critics of the Virginia system in calling for immediate changes. Two former Democratic attorneys general supported the move along with a former Democratic state party chairman and a former Republican state party chairman. 

But the Virginia Republican Party subsequently defended the system, 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." 

Cuccinelli, in his statement late Sunday, acknowledged his change of heart. 

"I do not change position on issues of public policy often or lightly. But when convinced that my position is wrong, I think it necessary to concede as much and adjust accordingly," he said. 

The attorney general's decision leaves the candidates who did not qualify depending on a court challenge filed by Perry to have any shot at being on the ballot. 

Over the weekend, the other four GOP candidates who did not qualify joined Perry's lawsuit against the state. 

Perry told Fox News on Monday that he still thinks the state needs to address the rules, or voters are "going to be disenfranchised."

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