There are currently many news stories and blog discussions about the Virginia presidential primary ballot access law. Some large blogs, such as Red State, have over 300 comments about the story. Some defend the current Virginia ballot access laws on the grounds that in past presidential elections, a fairly large number of Republican presidential primary candidates managed to qualify.
But what has not been reported is that in the only other presidential primaries in which Virginia required 10,000 signatures (2000, 2004, and 2008) the signatures were not checked. Any candidate who submitted at least 10,000 raw signatures, on notarized sheets, and which had at least 400 signatures from each U.S. House district, was put on the ballot. In 2000, five Republicans qualified: George Bush, John McCain, Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer, and Steve Forbes. In 2004 there was no Republican primary in Virginia. In 2008, six Republicans qualified: John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson (an earlier version of this post erroneously said Alan Keyes qualified in 2008, but he only qualified in 2000).
The only reason the Virginia Republican Party checked the signatures for validity for the current primary is that in October 2011, an independent candidate for the legislature, Michael Osborne, sued the Virginia Republican Party because it did not check petitions for its own members, when they submitted primary petitions. Osborne had no trouble getting the needed 125 valid signatures for his own independent candidacy, but he charged that his Republican opponent’s primary petition had never been checked, and that if it had been, that opponent would not have qualified. The lawsuit, Osborne v Boyles, cl 11-520-00, was filed in Bristol County Circuit Court. It was filed too late to be heard before the election, but is still pending. The effect of the lawsuit was to persuade the Republican Party to start checking petitions. If the Republican Party had not changed that policy, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry would be on the 2012 ballot.
The Democratic Party of Virginia has been opposed to the strict law on primary ballot access, and has been in the habit of collecting signatures for all Democratic presidential candidates recognized by the party. In 2008, the state party collected 7,300 signatures for all its candidates, thus easing the burden on them and requiring them to collect only 4,000 to 5,000 on their own.