Rome wasn’t built in a day, and tomorrow, the rules for Pennsylvania’s independent parties will still be unfair. But for the time being, there’s at least a glimmer of hope for the Keystoners who want to see the Green, Libertarian, Constitution, Communist, and other parties on their ballot alongside Democrats and Republicans when they hit the voting booth.

Last week, a federal court handed a win to those independent political parties seeking some reprieve from the state that likes to watch them squirm each election year. Notably, independent and minor parties now have the ability to challenge the law that says their candidates kicked off the ballot have to pay their major party opponents’ legal fees.

To catch you up to speed on this, Pennsylvania law is not only unique in that it requires a hell of a lot more signatures for third party candidates than major parties; it also requires third party candidates to pay their opponents legal fees if they get kicked off the ballot after a challenge to those signatures.

Which may not sound like that big a deal, until you realize that Democrats and Republicans pay their lawyers a lot. Way more than the Green Party Senatorial candidate Carl Romanelli had in 2006 (he still owes the Democrats $80,407) or Ralph Nader had laying around when he was kicked off the 2004 presidential ballot in Pennsylvania (about $81,000).

The Third Circuit ruling will allow lawyers representing these candidates, and others, to challenge the original 1937 law, even if Romanelli and Nader are still on the hook for their fees.

Romanelli tells PhillyNow the case is at the very core of the Constitution.

“This [law] has a chilling affect on first amendment protected speech; the very right to organize and obtain access to the ballot,” says Romanelli.

According to court documents, numerous minor party candidates claimed that the existence of the “loser pays” law was enough to scare them off the ballot once challenged. As per CourtHouseNews:

The minor parties claimed that the decision to impose those fees chilled candidates from seeking election and hindered electioneers from campaigning and collecting signatures for their nominee.

They also claimed that the threat of “extraordinary costs” in the Nader case caused them to “withhold or withdraw their nomination petitions” during the 2006 election cycle.

Ken Krawchuk claimed that, although he was nominated by the Libertarian party to run for the U.S. Senate, he declined after Nader was sanctioned with fines.

Christina Valente, the Green Party’s candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006, likewise told the court: “after a challenge was filed against me … I withdrew from the race. My decision to withdraw was based entirely on the fact that I was unwilling to assume the risk of incurring litigation costs.”

“Several Green Party candidacies during the past several years were prevented because courts were allowed to fine third parties for the costs of verifying signatures,” adds Paul Glover, who has been endorsed as the Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate this year. “Now we can expect more Green candidates to step forward.”

This law is an obvious step forward for democracy in Pennsylvania, but far from the end of this fight. Another proposed legal change would lower the signature standard for third party ballot access—which has gone nowhere in the numerous years it’s been introduced in the General Assembly.

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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