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.”

20 Responses to “ Libertarian Party Prepares Philly Ballot Access Fight with Help From Other Third Parties ”

  1. Holly Heinz says:

    I feel that I awoke this morning and that I am living in a different country. Who says they Libertarian Party can’t be on the ballot…the same people who decided to pass a Voter ID Law restricting a certain segment of our state’s population. When are we all going to say this is enough. The state is headed by a Gov. who has no interest in the COMMONWEALTH that’s us regular guys working and non-working..not so rich people. His interests have led this state into one of it’s darkest periods in it’s history. Ben Franklin and our founding forefathers are rolling over in their graves!!!!!!

  2. Starchild says:

    This is one of the best stories I’ve read on the under-reported subject of the ballot access hurdles set up by the two-party cartel to thwart alternative parties from challenging them.

    Kudos to the Randy LoBasso for the reporting, and a big trans-partisan thank you to the Pennsylvania Green Party members who are volunteering to help the Libertarians beat back the Republican Party’s dilatory challenge of Gary Johnson’s signatures.

    Alternative parties should work together and help each other fight this bull—- whenever possible.

  3. Eric Blitz says:

    I’d echo the points made by Starchild and applaud the author of this piece. Too often the public is unaware of the legal hurdles used by Republicans and Democrats to game the system. I’ll wager nobody was taught about anti-competitive ballot access laws to suppress alternative choices in our democracy in elementary school civics class. But this is what our democracy has become.

    Third parties used to be a vibrant part of our democracy. You wouldn’t have seen many of the progressive era’s laws like the eight hour work day or child labor laws if it weren’t for third parties. The right of women to vote was another movement that, if not for third parties, would have been at least delayed (it was probably inevitable in the long run). While some may say that there has to be some minimum standard for being placed on the ballot, my first response would be why? What do you fear about choice? Why not build a society that welcomes the liberty to make choices, whether in politics or at your supermarket.

    But for those still committed to the idea that there be a minimum standard for ballot access, understand that the laws used to be much more dedicated to that purpose alone rather than anti-competitive impulses. But around 1948, many states greatly increased the standards in an effort to restrict ballot access to only two parties. And we see the results in our politics, where the message is no longer about policy but personality, trifling issues instead of weighty issues, and two parties who can never come together to govern effectively because nobody can effectively push them to do so because they are excluded from the process.

    Consider this. Every single President on Mount Rushmore was associated with a third party at one time or another.

  4. Matthew Schutter says:

    Thank you to all that volunteers to help the Libertarians and the Constitution Party. The PA GOP should hang their head low. We shouldn’t call them the Grand Old Party. A better name for them is American Nazi Party. Hitler would be very proud Of the Pa Republicans!

    Live Free,
    Matt Schutter
    Jim Thorpe Pa

  5. Dr. Tom Stevens says:

    Great article. One major error though. John Karr is Election Committee Chair of the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania. Dr. Tom Stevens is LPPA State Chair.

  6. Tannim says:

    Need anymore proof that the major parties fear freedom and third parties?

  7. Elizabeth says:

    And if the Republicans kick Gary Johnson off the ballot, we have truly lost our freedom to vote. Tyranny has won.

  8. Tim Wade says:

    All the fuss about the number of signatures for a 3rd party? They get to gather all these signatures in good weather not the ice and snow of Feb. and early March and have a longer period of time to gather them than do the Democrats and Republicans.

  9. {Why do} “300 million Americans have {only} 2 choices for president? Can you imagine having 2 colors to pick for your car? Red or Blue. No silver, or black w/ chrome rims. No racing yellow or hunter green. Nope – 2 colors, red or blue. The 2 party system has failed us. Our corrupt corporate propaganda media has failed us. You cannot give 300 million people 2 choices & expect change. They feign fighting on TV while they sleep together at night. We need a 3rd, 4th, 5th choice to fairly represent us” -shwantz2 on youtube

    Bravo shwantz2 you get it !

    The Ds have won the POTUS race in PA for about 20 years the Rs are DEADMEAT, they just can’t get above DELUSION!

  10. jim m says:

    No one said a third party candidate can’t be on the ballot. Challenges to signatures are done in every election in Philadelphia. Is this your first time being here? If you want to run in Philly, signature challenges are the least of your worries. You are out of your league if this concerns you. Wait until the street stuff starts. Democrats lie, cheat and steal to keep you out of the booth. Ugly doesn’t begin to define it. Grow a pair if you want to be involved in Philly politics.

    If R’s and D’s and everyone else has to follow the rules, why do 3rd party candidates think they are different?

    Quite your whining and suck it up when Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck get removed from your signature petitions.

  11. Robert Jaffe says:

    @Jim M – we don’t like the system, period. Your attitude of “get over it” is what renders it unchanged. The Libertarians are trying to fight this and lets hope they succeed. And if we support them, Libertarians or Green, we should use our imaginations and help them.

  12. Melanie Dante says:

    Very clear writing on a very complex issue, Randy. Thank you for your continued coverage.

  13. Jim M says:

    @Jaffe – If you don’t like the system do something to change it. If you don’t do something to change it then you have to deal with it. What are you doing to change what you don’t like about it?

    Gary Johnson ran as a Republican last year. He didn’t like the results now he’s trying something new. Him being on the ballot only helps 0bama and that helps no one.

    If the Libertarians want to be taken seriously maybe they should win some low-level elections first. Run for council, state rep or state senator. There’s no way a Libertarian can win at the national level. Not right now anyway.

    The Constitution Party candidates are gone. Let’s hope the Libertarians are next. They paid so many Democrats to get faulty signatures for them, it’s going to be close. Now they are paying people to show up on Spring Garden street everyday. Then there are the legal fees. If you donate to the L party, ask to see a receipt. They are robbing you.

  14. Mike D says:

    Mr. LoBasso..THANK YOU for writing these stories about 3rd parties and what is happening in this political realm. You have opened my eyes and thousands of others who now see how disgusting the Democrats and Republicans are from the stories you continue to write about. I enjoy reading about the Libertarians, Greens, and Independents. You are doing a wonderful job as a reporter and Philadelphia readers appreciate this!

    I hope we can continue to see good candidates from these parties and see one of them elected in this city and state!

  15. Drew says:

    Just a heads up, if in 2006 the Dems, and in 2012 the Republicans are using unpaid college interns to do this type of work, they were/are likely breaking (broke) Federal law.

    Federal Law requires that unpaid internships must be “on-the-job” training, and that they cannot simply be assigned to do menial tasks that would otherwise require regular employees.

    The text of the federal guidelines:

    “The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
    The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
    The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
    The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
    The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
    The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.”

    I find it hard to argue that doing a menial task such as checking voters against a list in a fight against another political party as beneficial to the intern, that it is similar to vocational training, and that the employer receives no immediate advantage.

  16. Jim M says:

    Don’t worry Drew, the Republicans were not using unpaid college interns. They weren’t using college students or interns at all.

    Everyone that was reviewing ballots on the Republican side were volunteers that have been with the party for years. They do it so that train wreck currently in the oval office will be tossed out next January. No thanks to the Libertarians or Gary Johnson who remind me of the kid that always took his ball and went home.

  17. LuckyLibertarian says:

    The Republicans are worried that the Libertarians will expose their scam. The Republicans have many voters convinced that they are for less government. However, whenever they are given a chance to actually reduce government they blow it. I wonder how many times the republicans will be able to get away with this scam. Go Libertarians. Hang in there.

  18. Jim M says:

    LuckyLib, has a Libertarian ever been elected to office? Anywhere in the country? Maybe there’s some Liberatarian dogcatchers around but I don’t see any holding real office. LMAO.

  19. KickItUpNick says:

    I’ve decided that if Gary Johnson is not on the Pennsylvania ballot I’m going to give it to the GOP and Jim M by voting for Obama. I was just not going to vote but after reading Jim M’s posts I’m fired up. If I can’t vote for the candidate that I want to then I going to vote against the candidate responsible for taking my choice off the ballot. Democracy rules.

  20. Jim M says:

    It’s not “give it to the GOP” Nick. It’s “stick it to the GOP”. HAHA. Vote for whoever you want dude. I’ll just add you to the “taking my ball and going home” crowd because you are crying like a b**ch. I suggest you donate money to Johnson’s campaign too. You know where it goes? Right into the pockets of Democrats. Who did you think gathered all those signatures? Not Libertarian volunteers. Paid Democrats gathered them. Please, donate money so I can laugh at you some more.

    And it looks like Gary will be on the ballot. So you can vote for him after all. It will still be a vote for Obama (congratulations) but you’re the one that has to sleep with yourself. Not me. Or any women I would imagine.

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