Saturday, October 22, 2005

Maryland editorial about PA politics and access to ballot

Pennsy shouldn't make third-party runs so tough

It's no surprise that America's two main political parties don't want to make it easy for a third or even a fourth party to muscle in on their turf.

But should it be impossible for third-party candidates to get on the ballot?

We say no, especially in the state of Pennsylvania, which some would argue was the cradle of the American political system.

Well, unless you're a Republican or a Democrat, the Keystone State's laws make it mighty difficult for any political movement in its infancy to survive.

The Associated Press reported that when Ken Krawchuk ran as the Libertarian Party candidate for governor in 2002, he needed to collect about 32,000 signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot.

About 21,000 of those were required by law, but the Krawchuk campaign obtained 11,000 more to ensure that the campaign wouldn't go bust if a significant number of signatures were challenged.

There is a good reason to be careful. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review this week reported that Pennsylvania's 1995 motor-voter law, which allows people to register when they renew a driver's license, has caused problems. It's a good idea in theory, but in practice election officials say it makes it difficult to purge from the rolls voters who have left the state.

But the state's difficulties in keeping track of who is registered and who isn't shouldn't have any bearing on how difficult it is to for third-party candidates to get on the ballot.

For example, the aforementioned Krawchuk, who said he might try a U.S. Senate bid in 2006, would need to gather 100,000 signatures to ensure himself a spot on the ballot.

The required number of signatures is 67,000. The rest would cover the campaign in case many signatures are successfully challenged.

How was the 67,000 figure arrived at? Pennsylvania law says that candidates need 2 percent of the number of votes cast for the highest vote getter in the last statewide election.

It's Krawchuk's bad luck that in the 2004 election, Robert P. Casey Jr. amassed a total of 3.4 million votes in his race for state treasurer.

Does it make sense that circumstances beyond a candidate's control should dictate the number of signatures, or that Krawchuk be required to obtain four times as many names as third-party candidates in 2004?

No, this law does not make any sense. It should be changed so that prospective candidates would need to gather signatures from a certain fixed percentage of the state's registered voters.

If that total is difficult to ascertain, election officials have to go with their best estimates, remembering that it is they - and not the candidates - who are charged with keeping track of such things.

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