What does it take to get on the ballot in Pa.?

Last week, in the face of a GOP challenge, the Constitution Party withdrew their bid for a place on the general election ballot in Pennsylvania. Jim Clymer, the party’s vice presidential candidate, said that the GOP offered his party an ultimatum: withdraw by 3 p.m. Aug. 24, or, if you lose, be forced to pay the legal fees of both parties. Clymer says the decision was made to withdraw because it “looked unlikely that we were going to prevail.”

According to Pennsylvania law, the winner of a court case can, under certain conditions, force his or her legal fees upon the loser. Clymer said that these fees would amount to around $100,000.

Larry Otter, lawyer for the challengers of the Constitution Party’s election papers, was quick to note that his clients were three individuals, not the Republican Party itself. He admitted, however, that Carol Sides (Lycoming County Republican Committee), Richard Tems (Doylestown Borough Republican Committee), and Louis Nudi (Allegheny County Republican Committee) “could be” affiliated with the GOP.

Otter objected to the use of the word “ultimatum,” but admitted that his team had told Clymer’s lawyer that Constitution Party would be forced to pay their legal fees “if you continue and we prevail.”

Third parties have a difficult history getting on Commonwealth ballots. In 2004, the Democratic Party successfully challenged Ralph Nader’s ballot papers and forced him to pay their legal fees. He appealed, questioning the constitutionality of the regulations, but lost. This year, “Occupy Democrat” Nathan Kleinman gave up his battle for ballot candidacy because he could not afford to defend his papers against Congresswoman Allison Schwartz’s challenge. He is now running as a write-in candidate.

Clymer says that his party chose to withdraw because, at the time the ultimatum was issued, they were not confident enough in victory - with the court “applying the technicalities they have in the past” - that they were willing to risk bearing the GOP’s costs. At the time, 50% of the signatures challenged had been found valid, 25% invalid, and 25% had not yet been counted.

Jim Clymer will run as a write-in candidate, as will his running mate, Virgil Goode, and the rest of the Constitution Party’s nominees. Clymer claims that the PA Election Code was “crafted by Republicans and Democrats” to “maintain the status quo.” Representatives of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania were not available for comment.

The PA Election Code itself is complicated. Here’s the simple version: candidates from parties using the primary system need a certain number of signatures - up to 2,000, depending on the office. If they get the required number, they get on the ballot. Only major parties (parties consisting of at least 15% of the state’s registered voters) use the primary system.

Candidates not affiliated with major parties require more signatures: two percent of the “largest vote cast for any elected candidate” in the region where the candidate is running. In the Constitution Party’s case, for example, the highest vote-getter in 2008 received 1,030,050 votes, so Virgil Goode needed 20,601 signatures appear on the ballot.

State Department Press Secretary Ron Ruman claimed that the issue isn’t as simple as it looks. Every candidate needs the 2% signatures, he said, but the major parties already have them by virtue of their performance in the last election.

In 1993, in a decision called Patriot Party of Pennsylvania v. Mitchell, the Eastern PA District Court ruled that, the 15% rule was “demanding,” but “within the outer limit of the constitutional realm.”

In 2006, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights suggested that states like Pennsylvania should consider changing the signature-requirement for minor-party candidates to 1% of registered voters, “in line with existing best practices.”

There’s a chance that the ballot procedures could changes. State Senator Mike Folmer has introduced the Voters' Choice Act, intended to “bring about a fairer electoral process,” reports the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition. If taken up by the legislature, Folmer’s law will fuel debate on both sides of the aisle, but the loudest cries will probably come from outside of the capitol building altogether.

Among those cries will be Jim Clymer’s, echoing the position of his party and others’. “They don’t want us on the ballot,” he said.

 

REFERENCES

ODIH’s 2006 report on midterm elections in the USA: http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/usa/24283

Patriot Party of Pennsylvania v. Mitchell: http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?page=2&xmldoc=19931752826FSupp926_11596.xml&docbase=CSLWAR2-1986-2006&SizeDisp=7

The PA Election Code (Note that some sections cited in this article are not available for free online. Three relevant items are available in this article’s "RELATED STORIES" section.): http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/25/25.HTM

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