Libertarian Party Prepares Philly Ballot Access Fight with Help From Other Third Parties
The Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania handed in about 49,000 signatures on Aug. 1 to get presidential candidate Gary Johnson on the statewide ballot. A week later, as expected, the Pennsylvania Republican Party challenged about 44,000 of those signatures, alleging, among other things, that 26,000 Philadelphia-based signatures came from individuals who are not registered to vote in Pennsylvania. What will follow over the next week or more is a process by which Pennsylvania voting regulations have become some of the most laughed at, and derided, in the world—and a process which, of course, favors the standard two-party system.
After a preliminary trial this morning, the Libertarian Party and volunteers are set to commence checking those 26,000 signatures first thing Monday morning at the Board of Elections. According to the court order, volunteers for both the Republican and Libertarian Parties will be on hand to go through the signatures, one by one. “Each party shall have present 20 individuals…who are capable of performing computer searches utilizing the SURE [Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors] system,” reads the order. “City of Philadelphia election employees will instruct these individuals on how to conduct searches on the SURE system.”
“We’re starting Monday and we’re going every day until we’re finished,” says the Libertarian Party’s volunteer coordinator, Roy Minet. Volunteers, he adds, were not hard to come by: “We’ve got [volunteers] lined up from the Greater Philadelphia area, Pittsburgh, the Northwest corner of the state, Maryland, New Jersey.”
The process by which signatures are challenged in Pennsylvania—as previously reported by PW in this cover story—would probably be funny if it weren’t the worst thing you’ve never heard of. But it goes like this:
First, the third party hands in their signatures; this year, it was about 10 times the number required for Republicans and Democrats, due to the way election laws are set up (though in the past, that multiple has been as high as 30 times as many). Then, one or both of the major parties challenges the signatures based upon one of the state standards. That might be Hancocks belonging to unregistered voters, or it might be that the person signing the petition forgot to write the date (something Republicans are challenging Libertarians on this year), or writing a fake name, or signing two different party’s ballots—or, well, whatever.
Then the independent party either has enough money to take on the challenge or they don’t. An estimate of the ultimate cash amount is often provided to them (free of charge!) by the high-paid Republican- or Democrat-hired lawyers. For instance, in 2010, a Republican-hired lawyer (who is also working on this case) warned the Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates for statewide office that they could each face legal bills of up to $110,000—being that, in Pennsylvania, if you lose, the winner can force you to pay their legal fees as well as your own. (This law is currently being challenged.)
But let’s say you have the money and are willing to challenge the challenge. In that case, the court orders each party to gather a squad, sit together in a small Board of Elections room, and check the signatures on laptops, one by one. The amount of time this takes depends on the number of signatures being challenged. The more signatures, of course, the more time spent doing crap work.
And, between the investments of time and money that become necessary to fight the challenge—even if you win, you lose. “Everything that goes into defending our petitions is a resource we don’t get to use in the campaign,” says John Karr, Election Committee chair of the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania. [Note: Last sentence was updated to note Karr is Election Committee Chair, not Chair.]
One party familiar with this process are the Greens, who were not challenged this year by the Democrats—which was a surprise. Back in 2006, the Green Party’s Senate candidate, Carl Romanelli, handed in over 100,000 signatures to the Department of State—the most in state history—to get on the ballot. His challenge in Harrisburg involved seven weeks of laptop checking.
“Basically, they put eight Greens at computers paired up with eight Democrats, and each little team went through a stack of petitions and collectively determined whether the signature was good or not,” says Pennsylvania Green Party team coordinator Hillary Kane, who was present at that challenge. “It was horrible and really drained us … We busted our ass as an all-volunteer group to have only eight people in a room, eight hours a day, five days a week until it was over.”
Kane was not personally able to stay in the Capitol all seven weeks—though at last two volunteers, including then-Congressional candidate Titus North of Allegheny County, did stay most of the time. Dedicated to the case to say the least, North actually ended up camping in a nearby state park (“because who can afford seven weeks in a hotel?” notes Kane). He’d put on a suit and tie each day and head to the challenge room, where he’d be for eight hours.
The Libertarian challenge this year will allow more volunteers, and it’s in Philadelphia, and there are fewer signatures being challenged. So this time around may not be as Bear Grylls-ish—but who knows? Just in case, because the Green Party knows what it’s like being a much-hated alternative to the mainstream, some members have volunteered to help their Libertarian brethren.
One of those volunteers planning to show up at the Philly BOE office Monday is the Green Party representative of the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition, Bob Small. The issue, he says, is very personal to him. “There’s no difference between Putin trying to stifle the voices of [Russian punk band] Pussy Riot and the GOP trying to stifle the voices of Virgil H Goode [of the Constitution Party] and Gary Johnston,” says Small. “This effort by the… Romney Campaign confirms they do not believe fervently enough in their own messages to allow alternative versions and let the voters decide. To paraphrase a 1960s right-wing scribe: ‘None dare call it censorship,’ but it is.”
He notes that if the same thing were happening in China, “we would be speaking about this at the United Nations and on CNN.”
“We see it as ours to lose,” says Libertarian chair Karr. “We have to go through hell and if we sit back and do nothing, we’ll lose… I’m confident we met the requirement.”
Members of the Libertarian Party note that, in any case, they’re not surprised by the challenge. Their candidate, Gary Johnson, is a former governor from New Mexico and participated in some early Republican Presidential debates before being kicked out for not raising enough money or polling high enough in national polls of Republican candidates. He also voiced his support of several libertarian principles during the debate, including a vow to pull all troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq immediately; at times, he almost seemed to out-Ron Paul Ron Paul. “Republicans perceive the Libertarians taking votes away from their candidates,” says Minet. “But we also could take votes away from the Democrats.”
Johnson’s campaign, Minet adds, is challenging Romney from the right on fiscal issues at the same time that it’s challenging Obama from the left on social issues. The candidate wants to make marijuana a “a legal, regulated product.” He has also called for a repeal of the Patriot Act and was given a higher rating than both Romney and Obama by the American Civil Liberties Union on civil liberties issues.
“[Republicans] don’t like competition,” Minet says. “They want to restrict the choices the voters have.”