McDonnell offers amendment to hobble third-party candidates

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has inexplicably offered amendments to weaken HB 1151, a bill that passed both the House of Delegates and state Senate unanimously. The bill, as written, ameliorates the effects of uncertainty with congressional redistricting on petitioning for statewide office, including President of the United States.

This problem only presents itself every ten years, yet Governor McDonnell has offered an amendment to the bill to have it take effect in 2013, rather than immediately on an emergency basis, as it was presented in the version patroned by Delegate Mark Cole (chairman of the House Privileges & Elections Committee) and eventually passed by the General Assembly.

Richard Winger explains more thoroughly in Ballot Access News:

On March 2, the Virginia legislature had passed a bill to help ballot access, effective immediately. HB 1151 says that if new U.S. House district boundaries aren’t in place by the start of the even-numbered election year, petitions are valid that year whether they use the old U.S. House district boundaries or the new boundaries. The bill has an urgency clause so as to take effect immediately.

On April 9, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell sent the bill back to the legislature with suggested changes. He wants the bill to take effect in 2013, not now. Also he does not want the provisions of the bill to apply to any petition to place minor party or independent presidential candidates on the ballot, now or in the future. The legislature will decide in a one-day session on April 18 whether to pass this recommendation. The session starts at noon and must consider gubernatorial recommendations for approximately 120 bills.

Governor McDonnell’s suggestions for HB 1151 are shockingly unfair. The Libertarian and Green Parties had already started circulating their presidential petitions. Even though neither of these parties have presidential nominees yet, Virginia allows stand-in presidential and vice-presidential candidates, and lets such petitions start circulating on January 1 of a presidential election year. If the legislature accepts the Governor’s recommendations, the petitioning work already completed may be wasted.

I am willing to give the Governor the benefit of the doubt and suggest he was not fully aware of the repercussions of his proposed amendments, but a cynic might easily say that he is trying to hobble minor parties and independent candidates who already face high hurdles to get on the ballot.

The Libertarian Party of Virginia has temporarily suspended its presidential petition drive until this matter resolves itself, and party leaders are encouraging members to contact their delegates and senators to urge them to reject Governor McDonnell’s proposed amendments. If the amendments are tossed out, the bill as originally passed will become law.