A quirk in Virginia commonwealth law will allow Republican Attorney General Ken Cucinelli to avoid having to submit 10,000 valid petition signatures to qualify for the general election ballot as a candidate for governor, while former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe will have to submit those signatures by March 28.
If he runs as an independent, Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling would also have to submit the same number signatures but will have later deadline of June 11 at 7 p.m. to do it in order to earn a spot on the fall ballot.
The reason for this: Cuccinelli is set to vie for his party's nomination at a statewide convention, which is scheduled to be held in Richmond on May 18. He faces a nominal challenge there against former White House party crasher Tareq Salahi, who has not yet filed his "Declaration of Candidacy" paperwork with the Republican Party of Virginia, according to state party spokesperson Garren Shipley.
Candidates the GOP nominates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general "will not need petitions or the declarations" of candidacy forms, according to Matt Abell, the election administration lead for the Virginia State Board of Elections. The SBE does require that Cuccinelli submit three other forms by June 11 but "the bulk of the work is in gathering the petition signatures," said Abell.
All candidates wishing to compete in the state convention must also commit to support all of the party's nominees, according to rules set forth by the Republican Party of Virginia. Those seeking the party's nomination for statewide office have until 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 14 to file their paperwork.
"That is a hard and fast deadline. That is immovable. The deadline is in the call and there is no leeway to change that in any way," added Shipley.
McAuliffe and other Democrats competing in the June 11 primary must turn in to the SBE at least 10,000 valid signatures, including at least 400 from each congressional district, by 5 p.m. on March 28. They may start submitting signatures at noon on March 11.
Democrats have different requirements than Republicans this year because they opted for a taxpayer-funded statewide primary to nominate their candidates instead of a party-funded convention. Republicans originally opted for a primary, but a takeover of key party offices by Cuccinelli supporters resulted in the party switching to a nominating convention.
Bolling ultimately cited this change as one of the reasons why he decided to suspend his campaign for the Republican nomination. Polling showed he would have had a difficult time defeating Cuccinelli -- no matter the nominating method -- as Cuccinelli is much better known within GOP circles than the two-term lieutenant governor.
Since he dropped out late last year, Bolling has openly toyed with the idea of running as an independent, and polling this week showed him in double digits in three-way matchups with Cuccinelli and McAuliffe. While Bolling's numbers are better than former state Sen. Russ Potts (R), who campaigned as an independent Republican for governor in 2005, they are still a ways off from Bolling's stated goal of 35 percent to 40 percent.
Virginia's petition signature requirements made national headlines during the 2012 Republican presidential primary, when only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) submitted enough valid signatures. Both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) turned in signatures but did not have enough valid ones from qualified Virginia voters meetings the 10,000 threshold.
According to Shipley, some information on the forms turned into the state party was not even legible. "Jack Lew's signature was a masterpiece of penmanship compared to some of the (writing) we've seen," said Shipley.
An information packet from the SBE states that the Board "recommends that 15,000 - 20,000 signatures be obtained with at least 700 signatures from each congressional district to assure that enough signers are qualified voters."
Among items on Cuccinelli's legislative agenda for the current session of the Virginia General Assembly is lowering that requirement to 5,000 total signatures, with 200 coming from each congressional district.