Libertarian Ballot Access Challenge Continues in Harrisburg This Week

The challenge to the Libertarian party’s Philadelphia-area signatures ended last week in high spirits for the third party. Tomorrow, the Libertarian and Republican party volunteers will move to Harrisburg to argue over additional signatures picked up throughout the rest of the state. The ordeal will end when a panel of judges rule on the challenged signatures — or if one side blinks.

“I think [the challenge] has gone tremendously,” says Libertarian Party volunteer coordinator Roy Minet. “We had volunteers from seven different states, I believe, and from multiple political parties, too. And we’ve had a full compliment of people there. We hit the [20-person] requirements of the court order everyday.”

To put that in context, and as we’ve previously reported, the Libertarian Party nominated New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson as its presidential candidate this year. As this was happening, volunteers all over the state of Pennsylvania—and throughout the country—were gathering signatures to get their candidate on the ballot, as is the norm. Signatures were eventually handed in in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Johnson’s signatures were challenged in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Iowa — all of which are considered swing states — and the District of Columbia. In Pennsylvania, Libertarians handed in about 49,000 signatures to the State Department. About 44,000 of those signatures were then challenged based upon supposed oddities in the penned names, dates, addresses and other criteria.

Third- and independent-party candidates were required to hand in 20,601 signatures this year, which represents 2 percent of the highest vote cast in the 2010 midterm elections, as is state law.

Both the Libertarian and Constitution parties are considered to the right, politically, of the Republican party. The GOP, therefore, is often worried votes may be siphoned from them on Election Day. Similarly, the Green party is to the left of the Democrats and has been credited by some in the media for taking enough votes away from Al Gore in 2000, handing the election to George W. Bush. The Green Party was not challenged by the Democratic party in Pennsylvania this year.

The Constitution party dropped their presidential ticket from the ballot in August after being told the challenge may cost them over $100,000. In Pennsylvania, the loser of a ballot access challenge may be forced to pay the other party’s legal fees. Ironically enough, the Constitution party’s vice presidential candidate, James Clymer, is from Lancaster County.

“The challenge represented a monolithic establishment party which is intent on denying people the opportunity to vote for anyone who might criticize it from a limited government, non-interventionist perspective,” Clymer told Philadelphia Weekly in late August.

Over the past two weeks, the Libertarians have been dealing with ballot access at the Philadelphia Board of Elections’ offices on Columbus Blvd. Volunteers were paired with a Republican volunteer and a Board of Elections worker to go through challenged signatures, one-by-one, to check for legitimacy. There were more than 75 volunteers on hand throughout the effort, from at least seven different states. Gov. Johnson even showed up one day in Philadelphia to thank the numerous volunteers for the effort.

The effort to check the rest of the signatures will end before Sept. 12, when a panel of three Commonwealth Court judges decide whether Johnson can stay on the ballot.

But before that happens, the Libertarians have had a lot of help in the state this year. “We had people from the Green party who weren’t challenged this year but they said we’re all in this ballot access thing together,” Minet says. “We even had a number of Republicans that said, ‘Hey, I just don’t agree with what my own party has done; I’m going to try to help you guys.’”

Most independent party members agree that the system is wrong. And there’s actually a bill in the state Legislature sponsored by Republican state Rep. Mike Folmer of Lebanon, which would change the rules. Specifically, it would require a much smaller number of registrants within the state in order for the party to be considered ‘major.’ That party, then, would have to gather the same number of signatures for statewide ballot access as the Democrats and Republicans, which currently stands at 2,000.

“We need more choices on the ballot, not fewer,” says Minet. “If you look at what’s been going on in the country over the last several decades, there’s not a lot of difference between when the Republicans are in office and when the Democrats are in office: government gets bigger the debt keeps going way up … so it’s obvious we need another choice.

“They used to say don’t waste your vote on the third party candidate, but it’s more like don’t waste your vote on two alternatives who are basically doing the same thing in office. That’s the waste, you need to vote for someone who’s really going to change something.”

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