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Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Posted 10:50 PM by

Courts keep barriers for Pa. election competitors

This is what it's like to be an independent or third-party candidate running for statewide office in Pennsylvania thanks to the Legislature and courts.Two courts ruled today in favor of keeping Pennsylvania's tough requirements for third-party and independent candidates, forcing them to fight an uphill battle to get on the ballot for statewide office compared to Republicans and Democrats.

First off, a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld a lower-court ruling against three minor parties that had challenged the constitutionality of the law requiring them to obtain 2 percent of the total ballots cast in the top vote-getter in the last statewide election race.

Based on the total state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. received in 2004, that means a third-party or independent candidate would need to gather 67,070 signatures on a nominating petition this year compared to just 2,000 needed by Republicans and Democrats running for the same office.

The judges' reasoning: "The minimal burdens on minor political parties was justified by Pennsylvania's interest in preventing ballot clutter and ensuring viable candidates."

Yeah, right.

That's why fewer than half of Pennsylvanians go to the poll in non-presidential elections. There's just too many choices to pick from and the candidates are all so good.

What planet did these judges come from? I want to move there.

They should really talk to Russ Diamond. He failed to gather enough signatures this year to make the gubernatorial ballot as an independent even though he helped launch a statewide effort last year that successfully forced the Legislature to repeal its own pay raise.

Sam Stretton, the lawyer who represents the Green, Libertarian and Constitution parties in the case, said he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider an appeal of Wednesday's ruling.

"We're going to take it up and I hope the Legislature will listen in the interim," Stretton told the Associated Press.

You think state lawmakers want more competition at the polls? I don't. It's bad enough having the electorate pissed off at them, why give them a leg to stand on?

Just in case they do, the state Supreme Court gave the two majority parties a financial shotgun to shoot that leg out from beneath future competitors today.

Five justices found former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his runningmate, Peter Miguel Camejo, must pay $80,000 in transcription and stenography costs and handwriting-expert fees from when a group of Pennsylvania voters sued to block their names from the state's ballot in 2004.

The amount Nader and Camejo must pay will force a future third-party candidate to decide "whether or not he wants to bet his family home in an effort to have his political views heard," Nader's attorney, Basil C. Culyba, said.

But that's not how Justice Sandra Schultz Newman viewed it while writing the majority opinion.

"Given the magnitude of the fraud and deception implicated in (their) signature-gathering efforts, their claim that the Commonwealth Court acted in an unjust and unconstitutional fashion by assessing transcription and stenography costs does not pass the straight-face test," Schultz Newman wrote.

The Commonwealth Court opinion, issued after three weeks of hearings by 12 judges, described the Nader-Camejo petitions as "the most deceitful and fraudulent exercise ever perpetrated upon this court" and that it "shocks the conscience."

Signatures were filed from "Mickey Mouse" and "Fred Flintstone," and thousands of names were created at random, the lower court found.

Similar concerns have been raised by Democrats about the signatures a paid firm gathered on behalf of Carl Romanelli, the Green Party's nominee for U.S. Senate this year.

Much of the money to pay the company in question came from Repubicans who hope to siphon off some of the vote destined for Casey, who's running against U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. Some of Santorum's staffers even helped gather the signatures.

Only in Pennsylvania folks.


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