Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced Sunday night that he has reconsidered and no longer backs emergency legislation that would seek to get additional candidates on the ballot for Virginia's March 6 Republican primary.
"I obviously feel very strongly that Virginia needs to change its ballot-access requirements for our statewide elections," Cuccinelli said in a statement.
"However, after working through different scenarios with Republican and Democratic leaders to attempt to make changes in time for the 2012 presidential election, my concern grows that we cannot find a way to make such changes fair to the Romney and Paul campaigns that qualified even with Virginia's burdensome system.
"A further critical factor that I must consider is that changing the rules midstream is inconsistent with respecting and preserving the rule of law — something I am particularly sensitive to as Virginia's attorney general."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas are the only candidates who qualified for the primary. The state GOP excluded former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, saying they failed to submit the required 10,000 signatures of registered Virginia voters.
Earlier Sunday, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who leads Romney's Virginia campaign, had said emergency legislation to get additional candidates on the ballot would be unfair to the two candidates who played by the rules.
In another statement Sunday night, Bolling said he appreciates the turnabout by Cuccinelli, his rival for the 2013 GOP gubernatorial nomination.
"Needless to say, I am pleased that Attorney General Cuccinelli has abandoned his call for legislative changes to Virginia's ballot access requirements in advance of the Republican presidential primary in March," Bolling said.
"While I do not object to the General Assembly considering changes to our ballot-access requirements for future elections, it would have been inappropriate to make such changes in the middle of the current presidential nominating process. That would have been terribly unfair to Governor Romney and Congressman Paul, both of whom successfully complied with these requirements and filed a sufficient number of legal petition signatures to qualify for the Virginia ballot."
Bolling also admonished Cuccinelli.
"Going forward, I would also encourage Attorney General Cuccinelli to avoid making public statements that criticize our state election laws while his office is defending the State Board of Elections in a lawsuit that has been brought against them by Governor Perry and certain other presidential candidates," Bolling said.
"I am concerned that such public comments could be used against the commonwealth in our effort to defend these lawsuits, and I am confident that the attorney general would not want to do anything that could jeopardize his office's ability to win this case."
Perry filed suit last week in U.S. District Court in Richmond seeking to get his name on the primary ballot. Gingrich and three other GOP candidates are joining the effort.
The latest developments capped a flurry of statements by Cuccinelli on the ballot-access issue.
Cuccinelli, who has not endorsed a presidential candidate, initially released a brief authorized statement Saturday through Paul Goldman, a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia who is urging legislators to pass ballot-access legislation in time for the March 6 primary.
"Recent events have underscored that our system is deficient," Cuccinelli said. "Virginia owes her citizens a better process. We can do it in time for the March primary if we resolve to do so quickly."
Late Saturday night, Cuccinelli issued a more detailed statement through his spokesman. The attorney general said that while the GOP presidential primary has highlighted the issue, he wants to make it easier for candidates of all parties to get on the ballot in Virginia. He stressed that he is seeking to benefit Virginia's voters, not to aid "any particular candidate or any particular party."
"Any proposal is still in flux. Some sort of requirement for ballot access — such as candidates being eligible to receive presidential election campaign federal matching funds — is still needed, whether for 2012 or beyond," Cuccinelli said at the time.
According to the Federal Election Commission, candidates seeking their party's nomination for president can qualify to receive matching funds by raising at least $5,000 in each of 20 states.
Cuccinelli had added that the issue of whether "to meet in special session the first week of January to change the law in time for the March primaries is now in the hands of our lawmakers."
The General Assembly is not slated to convene until Jan. 11. House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said Sunday that he had not heard of any support for a special session.
Cox added that although lawmakers might discuss whether to change the ballot-access rules for future elections, "it seems to be a pretty unanimous opinion that it really would be a mistake" to hurriedly change the law in time for March 6.
In his statement sent Sunday night, Cuccinelli said he had struggled with the ballot-access issue.
"My primary responsibility is to the people of Virginia, and how best to fulfill that responsibility in these particular circumstances has been a very difficult question for me," Cuccinelli said.
"I believe consistency on the part of public officials is an important attribute. And I believe that Virginians are best served by an attorney general who consistently supports the rule of law. That leads to my conclusion that while I will vigorously support efforts to reduce the hurdles to ballot access in Virginia for all candidates, I will not support efforts to apply such changes to the 2012 presidential election.
"I do not change position on issues of public policy often or lightly. But when convinced that my position is wrong, I think it necessary to concede as much and adjust accordingly."