Virginia appeals order to delay presidential primary ballots

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 10, 2012 4:26pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Virginia officials on Tuesday appealed a U.S. judge's order blocking the state from mailing absentee ballots for its upcoming Republican presidential primary pending a hearing on Friday over whether more candidates should be listed.

Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum have sued Virginia election officials to get on the ballot, arguing that the state's qualification process limited voter access to the candidates of their choosing.

Only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul succeeded in getting on the Virginia ballot by submitting the necessary 10,000 verifiable signatures from voters to be included in the March 6 primary.

Judge John Gibney on Monday ordered state election officials to order local officials to refrain from sending out any absentee ballots and also tell them not to order any ballots until after a hearing set for Friday.

State officials had said they had planned to order and mail ballots to comply with laws that protect overseas absentee voters. The ballots must be mailed by January 21 and it takes about two weeks to prepare and send them, they have said.

Virginia's state board of elections filed an emergency appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit seeking to lift Gibney's order.

(Reporting By Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Will Dunham)

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