Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ballot Access Update, by Chuck Moulton,

We’ve been fighting the ballot access battle on several fronts. The Libertarian Party has been very active in the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition (PBAC), a coalition of all minor parties in Pennsylvania, including Libertarian, Green, Constitution, Reform, Nader, and many others. A lawsuit was filed in federal court to challenge the signature requirement. I’d like to update you on our progress.

PBAC lobbied the Governor’s Election Reform Task Force in April of 2005, which resulted in the task force recommending that the election laws “should be amended to provide greater access to the ballot for minor political parties and political bodies.” In September of 2005 PBAC developed legislation called the Voters’ Choice Act that would eliminate signature requirements for minor parties and base ballot access on a voter registration threshold.

This legislation was given to every state representative and state senator and many activists arranged meetings with their state legislators to advocate for the bill. A number of sponsors and co-sponsors were lined up. In January of 2005, PBAC made a presentation to the state senate’s State Government Committee on the Voters’ Choice Act. Unfortunately since that time the chair of the State Government Committee, Paul Clymer, has blocked the Voters’ Choice Act from being introduced. Legislators are afraid to go around Clymer. At this point PBAC is planning its strategy for lobbying the newly elected state legislature for the 2007-2009 term.

Several minor parties and minor party candidates joined together to fight the signature requirements in federal court, including Libertarian Ken Krawchuk. Central theories of the case were that minor parties had already demonstrated a modicum of support through their vote totals which qualified them to be minor parties (an equal protection argument) and minor party candidates should not be forced to get signatures outside of their party to be nominated by their party (a freedom of association argument). U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said a formula that requires minor party candidates to collect 67,070 signatures this year is constitutional and reflects a legitimate state interest because it prevents “ballot clutter.”

The plaintiffs immediately appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Circuit Judges Smith, Aldisert, and Roth again ruled against minor parties; however, their decision contained key factual errors. For example, it rested its conclusion on the incorrect premise that political bodies (political parties that had not qualified as minor parties) could not stack candidates on their petitions. Due to the factual errors, plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit En Banc, which means all the judges of the 3rd Circuit will decide the case instead of just three of them. That case is currently pending. If plaintiffs lose that case, they intend to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Green candidate Carl Romanelli was able to collect 100,000 signatures, partly by reaching out to Santorum supporters for donations on the theory that Santorum’s chances would be improved with Romanelli in the race. After the board of elections accepted his signatures, Democrats sued to get him kicked off the ballot. By exploiting technicalities such as signers who forgot to write the date or put information in the wrong boxes, they persuaded the court to remove Romanelli. Romanelli challenged the decision on two grounds: 1) the judicial retention election from 2005 should be used to determine the 2% requirement, making it 10,000 signatures instead of 67,000; 2) qualified electors should include all Pennsylvania citizens over 18 instead of just registered voters. He lost his cases on both these issues, but he plans to appeal. Romanelli was slapped with a $90,000 fine for court costs and a $800,000 fine for the Democrat attorney fees. Earlier this year the Nader campaign was fined $80,000 for defending itself in court. Some libertarians wonder whether it will ever be possible to run a statewide candidate again under these circumstances.

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