This is no way to run a democracy. This is shameful politics from the Democrats.
Green Party candidate prepares for day in court
MARTHA RAFFAELE, Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Green Party's U.S. Senate candidate hopes to persuade a state judge that he has gathered enough signatures to allow him to complete against Republican Sen. Rick Santorum and Democratic state Treasurer Bob Casey on the Nov. 7 ballot.
A Commonwealth Court hearing on a lawsuit filed by state Democrats is slated to begin Thursday amid a tension-fraught review of signatures collected by Carl Romanelli, who political observers have said could hurt Casey's chances of unseating Santorum, the Senate's third-ranking Republican.
State law required Romanelli, a railroad industry consultant and former family court officer from Wilkes-Barre, to collect 67,070 signatures to qualify for the ballot this year. The Democrats allege that more than 69,000 of the roughly 94,000 signatures he gathered - aided by Republicans who bankrolled the effort and Santorum campaign staffers who assisted with the legwork - include numerous fake names, unregistered voters and illegible signatures.
The hearing date comes toward the end of the fifth straight week in which volunteers for both sides have been reviewing the signatures to determine how many are valid.
Tensions have caused two public disturbances during the process. A scuffle broke out last month between Green and Democratic Party volunteers, and on Sept. 5 an independent Congressional candidate helping Romanelli was charged with disorderly conduct.
Although he acknowledges that there have been difficulties, Romanelli, 47, said he remains optimistic that he will prevail.
"I still have all the confidence in the world in our signatures," Romanelli said Tuesday. "It's ridiculous to see the haggling over the signatures, day in and day out."
But before the hearing can begin in earnest, both sides must jointly file papers indicating how many signatures they agree are invalid.
Clifford B. Levine, a Pittsburgh attorney representing the Democrats, said that as of Monday night, the two sides had agreed that more than 28,718 signatures were invalid. That's roughly 2,000 more than the 26,760 that would have to be invalidated to disqualify Romanelli from the ballot.
"We've been going through five weeks where the Green Party's representative has agreed with the petitioner's representative," Levine said. "Nobody forced their hand."
But Lawrence M. Otter, Romanelli's lawyer, contended that some of the signatures considered possibly invalid were erroneously classified as such because of problems with the state's electronic voter registry, which is being used to verify them. For example, Otter said, in some instances the system has indicated that it has no record of a registered voter's signature on file.
"It's a classic example - you're disenfranchising someone," Otter said.
Otter has even used subpoenas to obtain tax records and driver's license records of voting-age Pennsylvanians from the state revenue and transportation departments in order to prove the validity of any disputed signatures.
Pennsylvania law requires minor-party and independent candidates to collect a number of signatures equal to 2 percent of the ballots cast for the largest vote-getter in the last statewide election. This year's threshold, because it is based on Casey's record vote count in winning the treasurer's office in 2004, was set at an unusually high 67,070 signatures.
A separate matter pending before the state Supreme Court could also determine Romanelli's fate.
Otter is appealing a state judge's decision rejecting Romanelli's arguments that the 2 percent signature threshold should be based on last year's judicial retention elections, which would have cut the number required to fewer than 16,000. The high court has not yet heard arguments in that case.