After serving eight terms in Congress, Tom Coleman got used to asking people to vote for him. This Election Day, though, Coleman camped out in front of a Virginia precinct asking for signatures on behalf of another candidate. As voters arrived at Washington Mill Elementary School in Alexandria on a crisp fall morning to vote in state and local elections Tuesday, Coleman greeted them, holding a clipboard with a stack of petitions, a pen, and a blue “Kasich For Us” sticker affixed to the back. His job—one that’s usually reserved for volunteers and low-level staffers—was to collect as many signatures as possible to help his onetime House colleague, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, qualify for the 2016 Republican presidential primary in Virginia. By 8:15 a.m., Coleman was an hour into his day and had 15 signatures to show for it. “I had no idea if I’d even get one,” Coleman joked, noting he had never done this before.
Though Kasich and other presidential candidates are spending most of their campaign time in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, their campaigns are busy meeting qualifications for the primary ballot in many other states across the country. While some states ask only for signed paperwork or a filing fee, others require thousands of petition signatures from registered voters. Virginia has some of the strictest requirements: 5,000 signatures, including at least 200 from each of the state’s 11 congressional districts, submitted by Dec. 10. In 2012, every presidential campaign except Mitt Romney’s and Ron Paul’s failed to meet Virginia’s threshold, which used to be even higher.
The 2015 elections provided the best opportunity left for petition-gatherers to find crowds entirely comprised of registered voters. So campaigns dispatched volunteers and field staffers to precincts around Virginia, looking for voters to support their ballot-access efforts.