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Slew of election reforms clear Virginia Senate

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

The Virginia Senate moved Monday to ease restrictions for presidential candidates to get on the ballot after a handful of Republican hopefuls failed to qualify for the state's GOP primary last year.

Presidential candidates need 10,000 petition signatures, including 400 from each congressional district, to make Virginia's presidential primary ballot, some of the toughest standards in the country. Under a bill now headed to the House, candidates would need only 5,000 signatures.

The bill, which passed 23-17, was backed by Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who criticized the current system after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas were the only two candidates to qualify for Virginia's Republican primary last year. Texas Gov. Rick Perry handed in only about 6,000 signatures, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich fell shy of 10,000. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann didn't hand in any petitions.

"It was very frustrating to a lot of Virginians when obviously legitimate candidates were not available for them to choose from," Cuccinelli told The Washington Examiner, adding he would like to see the threshold lowered even further.

The measure was one of a handful of election-related bills to clear the Senate on Monday. It also approved, on a 33-7 vote, a bill that would allow an independent, bipartisan board, rather than the General Assembly, to draw new election districts -- a sensitive issue since Senate Republicans recently waited until one Democrat was absent from the chamber to push through a new redistricting plan.

Cuccinelli said he opposes the current method of redistricting in the General Assembly but wouldn't take a stand on the GOP redistricting push, which has threatened to increase tensions within the General Assembly.

"My job, if it becomes law, is to essentially defend the bill," Cuccinelli said.

The attorney general, who is running for governor this year, opposes a constitutional amendment that passed the Senate allowing governors to run for successive four-year terms. Virginia is the last state that doesn't allow its governor to run for a second consecutive term.

The Senate also OK'd a bill that forces third-party groups that register voters to register with the state and undergo training from the State Board of Elections. It also bans these groups from giving voters pre-filled-out registration applications after a D.C.-based organization sent registration cards to dogs, children and dead people last June.

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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