PA third party ballot access fight takes another step

Notice any green? Us neither.

Notice any green? Us neither.

A legal brief was recently filed on behalf of the Constitution, Green and Libertarian parties of Pennsylvania, who are fighting for equal access to the state ballot.

The brief, filed in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, challenges the state’s right to force independent candidates kicked off the ballot to pay their opponents’ legal fees, and was detailed in a PW cover story from 2012.

Fighting on behalf of the parties and former candidates Carl Romanelli; Joe Murphy; James Clymer; Thomas Robert Stevens; and Ken Krawchuch; attorney and member of the Center for Competitive Democracy Oliver Hall has been working on this case for several years.

It began in 2004, when presidential candidate Ralph Nader was kicked off the Pennsylvania ballot after more than 30,000 of his signatures were invalidated. The Commonwealth Court then ordered Nader and his running mate, Peter Miguel Camejo, to pay more than $80,000 in fees to their Democratic opponents.

Even though, according to Hall, signatures had been invalidated on “dubious and highly technical grounds”—like using “Bill” instead of “William,” and so on.

It happened again in 2006. Then, Green Party Senatorial candidate Carl Romanelli was kicked off the ballot and also ordered to pay more than $80,000 to his challengers, the Casey Campaign, which he has continually refused to do.

Hall’s appeal challenges the Third District Court’s unwillingness to issue an opinion in previous attempts. The Circuit Court judge had previously stated that they were “not persuaded” by the argument that forcing a political opponent to pay another’s legal bills violates civil rights era Supreme Court decisions “prohibiting states from imposing poll taxes, filing fees, and other mandatory financial burdens on voters and candidates,” as per a 2010 op/ed.

“The only issue now in the third circuit is whether the third district court is willing to issue an opinion, because he wouldn’t do it,” says Richard Winger, the editor of Ballot Access News, which has been covering this, and other ballot access cases, since 1987. “He said the parties don’t have standing, which we just consider absurd.”

Hall tells me he was hoping to argue the issue in court in February, “but opposing counsel has a conflict. I hadn’t heard from the court what they’re planning to do about that.” He hopes to hear something this week.

The lawsuit itself names Carol Aichele, Jonathan M. Marks and Linda Kelly as defendants. Kelly, of course, being the former Attorney General of Pennsylvania, who replaced Gov. Tom Corbett when he became governor.

In March, AG Kathleen Kane issued a brief on the case, noting a previous ruling that the case be dismissed “should be affirmed.”

Of course, part of the reason it’s so easy to get third party candidates booted form the ballot is because they, by law, are required to gather many more signatures (often tens of thousands) than their Republican and Democratic counterparts. Independent parties, with some Democrats and Republicans, are taking this on, too, through legislative action, but it’s so far failed to gained traction.

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