ARLINGTON, VA - DECEMBER 21:  Signatures to pa...

Today is Super Tuesday, and the four leading Republican candidates are fighting for delegates.  Mitt Romney is favored in some states, Rick Santorum in others, Gingrich expects to win in Georgia (he represented the state in congress), and Paul might even have a shot in one state (North Dakota).

Then we come to Virginia.  Only two candidates are on the ballot there – Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.  It’s expected that Romney will win convincingly.  If Santorum and/or Gingrich were on the ballot, it might be a different story.

Critics of Virginia’s primary rules call them onerous.  Signatures must be collected be residents of the state (no out-of-state staffers), ten thousand valid signatures must be collected, and there must be four hundred signatures from each district.

Rick Santorum failed to get ten thousand raw signatures, so his case to get on the ballot is a non-starter.

Gingrich apparently fell short after some signatures were declared invalid.  It has been mentioned that in previous elections, the validity of the signatures was never checked – anyone who turned in ten thousand signatures got on the ballot.  While that’s interest, there’s not logical reason why such a bad practice should be continued.  If the rules say ten thousand valid signatures, then it only makes sense that the validity of the signatures be checked.

The final hurdle to jump through is to ensure that you have four hundred signatures from each of the eleven congressional districts.  The “problem” this year was that there was redistricting due to the results of the 2010 census – and that the requirement referred to the new districts, which were non-existent when the signature-gathering began.  However, this isn’t the first time that redistricting has occurred – district boundaries change after every census.  There are a few relatively straightforward ways to mitigate this requirement.

Signature Gathering Tips:

Gather signatures in every reasonably sized city in the state.  While redistricting might shift a few cities around, all of the new districts are going to have at least a few decent sized cities.

Do extra credit extra.  Don’t stop when you’ve hit 401 signatures from each district.  If you far exceed the required numbers, you’ll less likely to get the number knocked below the threshold when invalid signatures are tossed.

If your state is reducing the number of districts, there’s a really easy solution.  Focus your efforts on the physical center of each district.  While the  borders are going to shift a bit, the physical center of most districts should remain somewhere within the district (barring outright right gerrymandering).  Situations where a state gains districts is more difficult, as the new district might be a combination of the fringes of several old districts.

Are the requirements to get on the ballot onerous?  There are eight million residents of Virginia.  Ten thousand signatures means that one in 800 residents of the state signed your petition.  Each congressional districts contains about 700,000 people … meaning that the requirement of four hundred signatures from each district would necessitate signatures from one out of ever 1500 people in a particular congressional district.

If you can’t reach such a minimal level of support, maybe you’re not ready for prime time.  It’s true it’s hard to get people to turn out to vote in primaries, but it’s the candidate’s responsibility to energize the supporters!

And here’s the final reason why I am not concerned with Virginia’s rules.  The primaries are not a government election, but a party election.  Let the parties decide how they want to choose the candidates, and let the parties decide what’s necessary to get onto the ballot.  Don’t like how they do it?  Get into a leadership position and change it – or form your own party.

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