Coalition Fights Tough Access Laws in PA

Always nice to see some cooperation, and particularly for a good cause like this one.

From the Pocono Record:

A coalition of political third parties and independents has launched a campaign to make access to Pennsylvania’s ballot easier for their candidates.

The coalition, including members of the Reform Party, Green Party and Libertarian Party, is calling on state lawmakers to change the way third parties qualify to get on the ballot.

The Poconos are a relative hotbed of third-party activity in Pennsylvania due in part to the migration of New Yorkers where third parties enjoy greater prominence. Coalition members are pushing for enactment of a so-called “Voters Choice Act” that would award ballot standing to a third party on the basis of statewide voter registration rather than the current arcane threshold pegged to a winner’s vote total in a previous election. Thomas McLaughlin of Bartonsville, treasurer of the state Reform Party, is among the group.

Members say it’s important to revamp ballot laws before next year. Due to a fluke in the current law, third party candidates for offices like governor and U.S. Senator will have to collect thousands of additional signatures to even get on the general election ballot next year, they say.

The fluke is that Robert Casey Jr. pulled a record 3.3 million votes to win election last year as state treasurer. That means a statewide third-party candidate or independent must collect enough signatures to equal 2 percent of Casey’s vote total. That equates to 67,070 signatures. The current law excludes judicial retention races from serving as the threshold. Two state judges are up retention this November.

To have the cushion necessary so a ballot petition can survive a legal challenge, organizers estimate at least 100,000 signatures will be needed.

Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic statewide candidates need 2,000 signatures to get on the primary ballot.

Coalition members think the bar will be too high for any third party or independent candidate to get on the state ballot next year.

“We are looking at a political train wreck in 2006,” said Ken Krawchuk, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor in 2002, at a press briefing at the state Capitol. “Unless we change the law, there will be no (statewide) third party candidates.” Coalition member Quince Eddens said such a shutout would come at a time when many voters are looking for alternatives because of anger over the legislative pay hike. Third party and independent candidates running for legislative and congressional seats must currently collect signatures equal to two percent of the winner’s total in the previous district-wide election. The coalition’s proposal would define minor political parties as having more than 0.05 percent and less than 15 percent of the registered voters statewide. Having that threshold would enable the party to nominate candidates under their own rules. Using the 2005 primary as a guide, the minimum threshold under this proposal would be 4,174 voters. Currently only the Libertarian Party with 35,000 registered voters and Green Party with 15,000 voters would qualify. The Constitution Party would fall just short of the threshold. Under the proposal, independent candidates would submit the same number of signatures as required of the major parties. The first task of the coalition is to poll lawmakers and see if they can find anyone willing to sponsor the legislation.

That is a challenge in an institution where the two major parties are entrenched. As recently as 1997, the General Assembly passed a law to automatically triple the number of signatures third party candidates must get. Former Gov. Tom Ridge vetoed that measure after a political firestorm ensued.

2 Responses to “Coalition Fights Tough Access Laws in PA”

  1. Joe Says:

    I hope they are successful. However, as the article suggests Republicrats will not sponsor legislation that will make it more difficult for them to get elected. Alternative party candidates will need to get elected under current rules, as unfair as they are, in order to change them.

    I also think the minimum .05 threshold is too high. If the coalition is going to bother with this legislation, why not include every alternative party. A .05 minimum is completely arbitrary.

  2. NewFederalist Says:

    While I agree with Joe that the .05% is arbitrary I am confident the General Assembly would never pass a bill that allows carte blanche ballot access. A small minimum requirement (which would be easily attained by serious minor parties, by the way) is the only way this has a chance. It would be such a vast improvement over the current situation that any small minimum to satisfy the major parties “concern” over “confusing” the voters with “frivolous” choices is worth accepting in my opinion.