As a result of Virginia law, some residents of the state may not have the opportunity to vote for their desired candidate in the March 6 primary.
Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Jon Huntsman have joined Rick Perry in seeking a court order to be included on Virginia’s primary ballot. However, a federal judge did say on Tuesday that the candidates are likely to prevail in the case because of a possibly unconstitutional provision.
According to Virginia state law, candidates seeking to be included on the primary ballot are required to obtain the signatures of at least 10,000 registered voters, with 400 from each of the state’s congressional districts. The problem the candidates face is the provision that only Virginia residents can collect the required signatures. The plaintiffs claim that it violates their right to freedom of speech and their right to freedom of association.
U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney will be holding a hearing on Friday to decide whether or not to include the four presidential candidates on the ballot. The judge has barred the distribution of absentee ballots until after Friday's hearing and gave a five-page supplemental remark along with the order.
"The Court finds that there is a strong likelihood that the Court will find the residency requirement for petition circulators to be unconstitutional," Gibney wrote. He added that previous court rulings "make clear that circulating petitions for candidates is a form of protected speech, and that the Commonwealth has a heavy burden to justify the restriction on speech by showing not only that the limitation achieves a valid state interest but also that the limitation is no broader in scope than necessary to achieve that purpose."
Although the judge acknowledged the validity of the plaintiff’s arguments, he had made it clear that his remarks are not signifying what his ruling will be during Friday’s hearing.
Legally, absentee ballots need to be printed and mailed out by a Jan. 21 deadline in order to reach military and overseas voters 45 days before a federal election. Judge Gibney said that although his order to hold off the printing of ballots until after Fridays hearing may make it more difficult for election officials to get those ballots out by the deadline, it’s not impossible. The judge said that the public interest in citizens’ voting rights takes priority over the burden on election officials.