Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
Toll Free: 800-234-6575
State electoral board keeps Goode on ballot
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
RICHMOND — Virginia’s Republican-dominated electoral board on Tuesday rejected an effort by the state’s Republican Party to keep conservative former congressman Virgil Goode off the presidential ballot to avoid draining votes from the GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, in a deadlocked swing-state contest.
Goode, nominee of the Constitution Party, and Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson of New Mexico were both added to the state’s ballot after Republican Party of Virginia lawyers asked the board for an independent review of alleged irregularities in both candidates’ qualifying petitions.
The Virginia State Board of Elections voted to refer the GOP’s allegations to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is a Republican, and the state police for investigation. No similar inquiry was sought for the Libertarian Party’s ticket.
Republicans hold two of the electoral board’s three seats.
The Republican Party leveled the challenge against Goode as a Quinnipiac University poll showed Romney and President Barack Obama tied in Virginia. Goode, who was elected five times to Virginia’s 5th District seat representing rural Southside Virginia, could draw thousands of votes from a conservative base less than four years after leaving office.
The state GOP quietly lodged its 28 pages of claims in a letter to the State Board of Elections late Thursday, just ahead of the Labor Day weekend. It was filed by Chris Nolen, a former deputy state attorney general now with McGuireWoods, a Richmond law and lobbying firm.
The board hurriedly added the matter to its regular Tuesday meeting agenda and required the SBE’s staff to work through the holiday weekend to determine that both Goode and Johnson had easily exceeded the requirement for 10,000 registered voter signatures, including at least 400 from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts.
The GOP letter said all of Goode’s nearly 20,000 qualifying petition signatures “should be invalidated because there is clear evidence that circulator fraud was rampant and pervasive in the campaign’s signature-gathering efforts.”
It implied that Goode and two others who had circulated petitions for him, Martinsville City Council member Danny Turner and Gail Parker, who is running for Congress on the Independent Green Party ticket, gathered signatures from people representing a wide geographic area of Virginia in a suspiciously short time.
All three said it was explainable by working long days and targeting well-attended events such as yard sales, festivals and, in one case, a gun show Goode visited in July in Salem.
“There is absolutely no validity to the charges,” Turner said Tuesday night. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with how we gathered the petitions.”
Goode in particular was vehement and angry as he rebutted Nolen’s claims.
“He (Nolen) wasn’t with me. He didn’t go to the event,” Goode said. “First of all, he says that on July 21, I was in Birmingham, Ala. I was in Birmingham, Ala., on July 21st, left at 2:30 p.m., drove straight up the interstate and stopped at a few places and had the opportunity to gather a few signatures on that day.”
The letter makes a similar claim about signatures Goode gathered on a day when he was in Raleigh, N.C.
“You bet I did. I got up early. I stopped at Main Street Amoco in (Goode’s hometown of) Rocky Mount, Va. My good friend Keith Tosh is there, and he says, ‘Virgil, I haven’t signed one of your petitions yet, and if you get on the ballot, I’ll be voting for you, I won’t be voting for Obama like I did last time.’”
“Keith signed the petition — and you can call him right now at Main Street Amoco, and he’ll tell you — on July 23, early in the morning,” Goode said.
Joshua Lief from the attorney general’s office said state law gives the board no authority to conduct the sort of independent vetting that Nolen sought.
Turner, who attended the board of elections meeting Tuesday, said “I was completely dumbfounded” with examples of fraud allegations presented.
He said he thinks McGuireWoods did not take into account the fact that, as they traveled the state gathering signatures for petitions, they stopped at events visited not just by locals, but also by people from across Virginia.
For example, Turner said that while visiting a chicken festival in Emporia, “the first person I walked up to happen to be from Martinsville.”
Board member Donald Palmer said he was satisfied by the explanations and recommended that Goode and the Libertarians be allowed onto the ballot because the deadline for sending paper ballots for absentees is less than three weeks away. The board unanimously approved his motion.
However, Goode could be disqualified from the ballot later if the criminal investigation results in election fraud charges.
“RPV (Republican Party of Virginia) was essentially trying to put its judgment in the place of the State Board of Elections,” Goode said.
Virginia Constitution Party Chairman Mitch Turner called it an effort by a moneyed major party to intimidate conservative third-party rivals and limit their access to the ballot.
“I think that sends a message to the people that if you are going to buck the establishment, if you want to get out there and make a difference, you better watch out,” he said.