The election season is upon us, and that means independent Pennsylvania parties are out in force, attempting to bring attention to, and eventually ease, the harsh ballot access rules applied to them in statewide races.

As such, members of the Green and Libertarian parties recently sued Pennsylvania election officials over signature gathering and checking rules on free speech grounds, claiming signature gathering restrictions and what counts as a good signature. Named in the case: Pennsylvania Commonwealth Secretary Carol Aichele and Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation Commissioner Jonathan Marks.

Citing “specific unconstitutional constraints on [Independent parties’] exercise of core political speech,” the 178-page complaint claims restricting those who can circulate nomination papers and rules to strike signatures from the ballot are amongst the problems independent parties face while attempting to get on the ballot in Pennsylvania.

“The most important point in the lawsuit is the challenge to Pennsylvania’s ban on out-of-state circulators,” says Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News and a long-time expert on the issue. “If that can be enjoined, Paul can attract Greens from Pennsylvania’s neighboring states to help him. It just happens that all the states that border Pennsylvania already have the Green Party safely on the ballot, so Greens in neighbor states don’t need to petition for their own party’s candidates in their own states.”

Easier said than done, of course. As we’ve been telling you for a couple years, Pennsylvania’s ballot access laws are as follows: You’re not a major party unless at least 15 percent of state residents identify with your party; if you’re not a major party, your signature requirement for the ballot is 2 percent of the total votes in the last statewide election (whereas major parties’ are 2,000); once you file those signatures, they may be challenged by an opposing political party; if you lose, you can be asked to pay your opponents’ legal fees.

Oh, and what qualifies as a legitimate signature is open to interpretation by the state.

Not to mention independent candidacies don’t become official until, at the earliest, the end of the summer (which helps deny them access to debates and media coverage.)

Lawsuits have argued over several years to do away with some of the standards for what qualifies as a ‘major’ party in Pennsylvania, as has bipartisan legislation in the General Assembly.

Most recently, in December 2013, an Appeals Court responded to a case brought by Pennsylvania’s minor parties, claiming when their suit was originally dismissed, that was the right call. Things have not gone well for Pennsylvania’s independent, minor parties.

This new lawsuit wouldn’t create a perfect world for independents (rather, it would just make the current system a bit less restrictive), but it would help scratch away at the unfavorable system courts and major political parties don’t want to touch. In the meantime, Paul Glover, of the Green Party; and Ken Krawchuk, of the Libertarian Party; are still gathering signatures for their eventual, potential, respective, spots on the ballot.

This blog has been updated to include comment from Richard Winger.

About The Author

Staff writer

Randy LoBasso is the winner of the Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association's 2014 Distinguished Writing Award for his news and politics coverage at Philadelphia Weekly. He has also contributed to Alt Ledes, Salon, The Guardian and PennLive.

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