This needs to be fixed. Our democratic process is frail. This is a major key to our salvation of a state.
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April 15, 2010
Attention: News Editor
For Immediate Release
I.K. Samways, Green Party of PA Chair, 412-215-9161, firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Baker, Green Party of PA, 717-845-8697 OR 717-755-1463, email@example.com
Doug Leard, Libertarian Party of PA Media Relations, Media-Relations@lppa.org
Michael Robertson, Libertarian Party of PA Chair, 1-800-R-RIGHTS, firstname.lastname@example.org
Greens & Libs Condemn Decision in Ballot Access Lawsuit
• Green Party, Libertarian Party, and Constitution Party filed federal lawsuit to challenge discriminatory provisions and enforcement of ballot access laws
• Judge, a former state court judge, concludes that other state court judges are not to blame for Pennsylvania’s ballot access woes
GREEN PARTY OF PENNSYLVANIA
LIBERTARIAN PARTY OF PENNSYLVANIA
The Green Party of Pennsylvania and the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania condemned a decision by federal Judge Lawrence Stengel last week. Stengel concluded that the lawsuit, brought by the Green, Constitution, and Libertarian Parties of Pennsylvania, targeted the wrong plaintiffs, and thus threw out the case.
Stengel ruled that the plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the Pennsylvania system of using courts to determine if petitions are valid, and assessing court costs against candidates whose petitions are deemed not to have enough signatures. In recent years, these costs have amounted to over $80,000 for the "crime" of trying to run for public office.
The lawsuit, Constitution Party v. Cortes, was filed in May, on behalf of the alternative parties by the Center for Competitive Democracy (CCD), a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) legal advocacy group. The suit, filed in federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, challenged the constitutionality of the Pennsylvania Election Code provisions that authorize courts to order candidates to pay litigation costs and fees to private parties who challenge their nomination papers. In recent years, these fees have amounted to more $80,000 for the crime of doing no more than trying to run for public office.
Due to the courts’ role in fining candidates, which is not required by Pennsylvania law, the lawsuit specifically listed State Court Judges as the plaintiffs in the case. And because the lawsuit targeted State Court Judges, it was filed in federal court to avoid a conflict of interest. However, last week, federal court Judge Stengel did not agree with this line of thinking and threw out the case due to the plaintiff’s “lack of standing.”
Judge Stengel refused to comment on the other two issues in the case. One issue was the systematic refusal of the Pennsylvania Department of Elections to tally write-ins. A closely related issue is that many counties in Pennsylvania don’t count and report any write-ins. The other unmentioned issue in the decision is the 15% registration threshold for a party to be fully ballot-qualified.
Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania Chair Michael Robertson noted "It is clear from this ruling that federal courts cannot be relied upon to uphold the integrity of the electoral process any more than the Commonwealth courts. It is truly a shame when our troops are sent to foreign lands to secure choices for foreign voters that our citizens do not enjoy."
Sadly, this is yet another defeat in a long-line of attempts by Pennsylvania’s alternative parties to seek justice in the electoral arena. “Everyone knows Pennsylvania’s ballot access laws are discriminatory to alternative political parties. The laws are made by the Democrats and Republicans in the state assembly, and then enforced by other Democrats and Republicans in the courts. There is no incentive for anyone currently in power to change the rules to allow people out of power to more easily challenge their authority. The situation is outrageous,” said Steve Baker, Green Party member of York County. “The Pennsylvania Constitution states that ‘Pennsylvania Elections shall be free and equal,’ yet the partisan courts won’t acknowledge even their own framework of law.”
Marakay Rogers, the Libertarian Party candidate for Governor, remarked “Once again, the voters of Pennsylvania are being insulted by court rulings that prevent them from having a real choice of candidates as other states give their voters. The two old parties that dominate Pennsylvania's legislature and courts are only providing us with the illusion of a free vote when all parties' candidates are not given equal opportunities to make it to the ballot."
Despite this set-back, Greens and Libertarians vowed to keep fighting. “We will continue to fight these horrible laws in the courts and in the legislature,” said GPPA Steering Committee Member Bob Small. “Luckily, we can also look to the Voters’ Choice Act to bring about some sanity to ballot access in Pennsylvania.” Both parties are members of the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition.
The Voters’ Choice Act, or SB 252, was introduced by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), last year. The bill would equalize ballot access across all parties, not just the Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, the bill has been sitting in committee for over a year, with little indication that it will be passed before the end of the year.
Stated Allegheny County Libertarian Mark Crowley, “With about 10 million age-eligible Pennsylvania voters, about 7 million registered as Democrat or Republican, only one-half typically vote. That means 6.5 million of the 10 million consistently reject the major party choices. No wonder such an uninspiring and unpopular minority needs court decisions like this to protect its incumbency."
Said 2006 Green Party Senate Candidate Carl Romanelli, “Until people get angry about the erosion of their most fundamental right – the right to vote for the candidate of their choice – we will continue to see candidates restricted from the ballot. I don’t know anyone who thinks that our politicians are doing a good job at fixing our most pressing problems. If we have any hope at fixing our economy, our schools, or our environment, we’ll need to elect new people with new ideas to Harrisburg.”
PA Ballot Access Coalition
Greens Call Press Conference for the Start of Veon Trial to Address Pennsylvania’s Culture of Corruption, February 2010
Romanelli Asks Obama for Beer Summit, September 2009
Green Party joins Ballot Access lawsuit, June 2009
GPPA Reacts to Charges Against Luzerne Judge, February 2009
Green Party decries “Bonusgate”, July 2008