(CNN) - Four candidates suing the Commonwealth of Virginia for access to the state's Republican primary ballot gained an incremental victory Tuesday after a judge blocked the mailing of absentee ballots.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum claim provisions to appear on Virginia's primary ballot are unconstitutional. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann originally joined the lawsuit but has since suspended her presidential campaign.
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In the temporary order Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Gibney Jr. said the provision excluding non-Virginians from gathering signatures for candidates was likely to be deemed unconstitutional.
"The court finds that there is a strong likelihood that the Court will find the residency requirement for petition circulators to be unconstitutional," Gibney wrote in the order. "The authorities make clear that circulating petitions for candidates is a form of protected speech, and that the Commonwealth has a heavy burden to justify the restriction on speech by showing not only that the limitation achieves a valid state interest but also that the limitation is no broader in scope than necessary to achieve that purpose."
Perry, who filed the original lawsuit, claimed the restriction on out-of-state petition gatherers limited free speech, and would even disallow the candidate himself from collecting the 10,000 signatures required to appear on Virginia's primary ballot.
Giving the court's likelihood of finding the residency provision unconstitutional, Gibney ordered the Virginia State Board of Elections to stop printing and mailing absentee ballots.
"If absentee ballots are printed, and particularly if they are mailed, it will impair the Court's ability to enter an order granting relief to the plaintiffs," Gibney wrote.
He also said it would "confuse" voters if two versions of the ballot were mailed.
The hold on printing and mailing absentee ballots came after a conference call with the candidates' lawyers and counsel for the Virginia State Board of Elections. A formal hearing is scheduled for January 13.
Perry and Gingrich both filed petitions with the Virginia State Board of Elections in December in the hopes of appearing on the Republican primary ballot. Both were ultimately rejected the Republican Party of Virginia, which said the petitions didn't meet the state's requirements.
Huntsman and Santorum did not file any petitions with the elections board.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul both successfully filed petitions with the board. Virginia's primary takes place March 6.
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Campaign all you want. But if the guy printing the ballots doesnt like you? Then you're toast.
Nice one, Virginia.
I have faith in the courts but these candidates are setting the worst example of leadership. Running for President means you are interviewing for President. The privilege of sitting behind that desk in the oval office. Everything you do when you are campaigning is part of that interview process. That includes racist comments, bad performance at debates, especially interaction with voters or should I say candidates confrontation with their possible future boss's (not smart) Grand standing like this really ticks me off. It is not the states fault if you were not prepared and followed the rules to meet the dead line to get on the ballot. What example are they trying to set here. The rules apply to everyone else but not us.
It was four losers, now one of them gives up, who cares? They're still a bunch idiots, moron etc... Palin 2012
Let me question to the Judge, what way it is unconstitutional? If a guy is serving military, and he is gone to some place, does this citizen need to be deprived of voting privilege? In a democratic concept. What a nonsense. No law says so.
Why is it unconstitutional in Democratic Nation? Do citizens need to be deprived of voting right?
Well said! True, true, true!!
Nice move to try and split votes from a 2 horse race.
Yet Romney and Paul managed to get on the Ballot.. If they managed it how did these 5 now 4 fail? Don't blame the state for your short comings