The Fourth Circuit got it right. The circulation of ballot petitions is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment, and the state may not limit that right to Virginia residents, said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg. “We’re pleased that the Supreme Court recognized that there is no need to review the Fourth Circuit decision, which is in line with the vast majority of federal courts that have considered this issue.”
Under Virginia statute, “non-party” presidential candidates who wish to be listed on a general election ballot must gather at least 200 signatures from each congressional district and a total of 5,000 from the entire state. Individuals are considered to be non-party candidates if they or the organization they represent received less than 10 percent of the total vote cast in either of the two preceding statewide elections. The signatures must be witnessed by state residents.
A similar issue arose during the 2012 Republican primaries when presidential hopeful Rick Perry challenged a related Virginia law imposing state residency requirements on individuals who circulate petitions for presidential primary candidates. In that case, a federal judge said that Perry had filed his lawsuit too late to expect a court remedy, but also opined that the residency restrictions were likely unconstitutional.
“As the Fourth Circuit recognized, circulating petitions is core political speech, which the state may not restrict without a compelling reason. In this case, the Commonwealth failed to show any need to deny this right to nonresidents,” said Glenberg.