Constitution Party presidential candidate Virgil Goode is officially -- for now -- on the presidential ballot in Virginia, a battleground state where he has deep roots and poses a real threat to Republican Mitt Romney.
The Virginia State Board of Elections ruled Tuesday that Goode's name should appear of the state ballot in November. Goode turned in about 20,000 signatures, twice the legal requirement, in late August to qualify for the fall election.
But the state board also called for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to widen the scope of an investigation that began last month into Goode's petitions based on a challenge from the Republican Party of Virginia in a letter dated last Thursday. The 28-page document alleges Goode and two of his top signature gatherers committed widespread fraud; it claims they collected more signatures from more parts of the state than possible in a single day.
Republicans successfully pushed the Constitution Party off the ballot in Pennsylvania, another swing state and the home of Goode's running mate.
"It's ludicrous," Goode said. "It's a huge effort to squelch anyone who doesn't toe the Romney line."
Goode served in the state Senate as a pro-life, pro-gun Democrat before representing Southern Virginia in Congress as a Democrat, Republican and independent between 1997 and 2009. A recent Public Policy Polling survey showed Goode drawing about 5 percent of the vote in a race against Romney and President Obama in Virginia, with most of the votes coming from the Republican ticket in this closely fought battleground.
The Virginia GOP also challenged signatures for the Libertarian Party, another conservative group likely to pawn some votes off Romney. The elections board placed the Libertarian Party and Green Party on the ballot Tuesday.
Calls to the Republican Party of Virginia were not returned.
Cuccinelli's office said it could not comment on the investigation into Goode's petitions because it is ongoing. Goode's camp appeared confident he'll remain on the ballot.
"Ken Cuccinelli is top-notch. He's the Republican I could actually support," said Mitch Turner, chairman of the state Constitution Party. "It's obvious this is not going to go anywhere."
The elections board hopes to finish printing ballots by Sept. 14 so they can be ready for early voters and overseas absentee voters by Sept. 21, said spokeswoman Nikki Sheridan. If the investigation were to result in Goode's dismissal from the ballot, it could delay when active-duty military voters receive their ballots or cause costly printing fees.
"It absolutely is a tight time frame for us," Sheridan said.