CHARLESTON - West Virginia officials have several options if they wish to avoid repeating an outcome of this month's primary election, when imprisoned felon Keith Judd attracted nearly 41 percent of the vote against President Barack Obama.
Judd qualified for the Democratic primary ballot after he mailed in a candidacy form and a $2,500 filing fee from Texas. He's serving a 17-year federal sentence there for making threats. Declared results from the May 8 primary show Judd with 73,138 votes to Obama's 106,770.
A number of states also require presidential primary candidates to gather voter signatures. Such a hurdle kept several high-profile Republican candidates off the ballot in neighboring Virginia earlier this year: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
That state requires candidates to submit signatures of at least 10,000 voters, including at least 400 from each of its 11 congressional districts. Virginia also only allows state residents to circulate candidate petitions.
Only a handful of states don't require petition signatures for at least certain categories of candidates, said Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News. For 27 years, Winger has tracked legislation, court rulings and other developments in this area. West Virginia mandates signatures for third-party and independent candidates running for president, Congress and statewide office. This rule addresses getting on the general election ballot, and does not apply to the primaries of the state's recognized political parties.
West Virginia's threshold is 1 percent of the votes cast for the particular office during the last election. Judd would have needed 7,135 signatures if he had sought to run for president in West Virginia by this route.
Winger estimated that about half the states leave it to their chief elections official, usually the secretary of state, to decide which presidential candidates get on the ballot. Tennessee, for instance, allows its secretary of state "sole discretion to include only those candidates that he has determined are generally advocated or recognized as candidates in national news media throughout the United States," according to that state's access rules.
A few states give their political parties the power to approve presidential primary candidates, said Winger, who advocates for improving ballot access for all candidates.
Rather than creating or beefing up hurdles for would-be primary candidates, the West Virginia Legislature has moved in the opposite direction, according to a review of measures proposed over the last 15 years.
A bill passed in 2009, for instance, lowered the minimum amount of signatures for minor-party and independent candidates from 2 percent of the previous election's vote.
That legislation included other provisions meant to ease the petition process, and passed overwhelmingly in the House of Delegates and unanimously in the state Senate.
A 2004 law capped the filing fee for presidential candidates at $2,500. It had reflected a percentage of that office's annual salary, and so would have been $4,000 this year.
Other bills on the topic include an unsuccessful proposal from this year's session that sought to reduce the signature requirement for would-be candidates who seek a waiver of the filing fee.
"The trend has been to increase the capability of candidates" to get on the ballot, said Bob Bastress, a professor at West Virginia University's law school who is considered an authority on the state constitution.