by Ed Bortz, Green Party candidate for Congress, 14th District Pennsylvania
The system used to challenge ballot access petitions for candidates in Pennsylvania is fundamentally arbitrary and unfair. The process does not err on the side of registered voters who wish to support a candidate’s right to be on the ballot, but rather, it favors the challenger of the candidate’s petitions via an elaborate maze of "invalidating" criteria.(1)
Here are some of the pitfalls/issues that are used to invalidate voters who sign candidate ballot access petitions:
nicknames, middle initials, voter registration address (sometimes at odds with "place of residence" as the petition asks for), street names (particularly variations regarding numbered and directional streets), lack of a signature record in the statewide SURE voter database, reversing signature and printed name on the petition, differences between new mail addresses and previous Rural Route addresses, "illegible" signatures or addresses that may be arbitrary based on the reviewer’s ability or bias.
A fundamental flaw of the ballot access "challenge" process is that the system relies almost exclusively on the challenger’s "evidence" against the candidate. In addition, the actual act of filing a challenge is commonly acknowledged to be the initiative of a competing candidate in the same election. This kind of system invites arbitrary even vindictive ballot access challenges.
The ballot access challenge process favors challengers with economic and legal resources to eliminate competing candidates of limited financial means. In addition, for candidates who defend their petitions in Pennsylvania courts, there is the ominous prospect of court imposed court costs and challenger lawyers’ fees that the challenged candidate will be responsible for if his/her defense fails. This atmosphere of financial retribution discourages candidates from defending themselves if challenged, as well as discouraging independent and minor party candidates from even running.
A related but separate issue on ballot access, is the inequality between major party vs. minor party/political body/independent signature requirements.(2)
The year 2010 brought at least 88 ballot access challenges in Pennsylvania, primarily among the Democratic Party primary candidates. It appears that the challenge "virus" has moved into the main body politic of Pennsylvania adding to the chilling effect on democracy, free and fair elections.
An independent ballot access petition review and authorization commission made up of impartial major party, minor party, and independent voters would be an improvement over the present challenge process that Pennsylvania is presently burdened with.
Other ballot access reform measures are needed in Pennsylvania
(PA Senate SB-252) in order to give minor parties with a modicum of support based on voter registration, the opportunity to run candidates through their convention process selections rather than by petitioning.
(1) Protocol for Signature Review, Aug 24, 2006, challenge on Carl Romanelli;
(2) 2010 signature requirements: U.S. Senate, Joe Sestak (D) 2000; Mel Packer (G) 19,082
2010 signature requirements: Congress 14th CD, Mike Doyle (D) 1000; Ed Bortz (G) 4847