Philadelphia Weekly, a paper which has not been unkind in its coverage of the Green Party of Philadelphia, recently published a piece covering Democratic primary ballot access, ballot access for third parties, ballot access reform efforts, and convictions of Democratic lawmakers related to keeping Ralph Nader off the ballot in 2004, among other things. Interestingly, another Philadelphia newspaper, the Metro, also recently published a piece focusing on third parties entitled “Why voting third-party isn’t a waste.”
But Pennsylvania’s problems with democracy are buried well below the level playing field. Here’s what’s not mentioned on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website: Anyone can challenge the petitions of anyone else running for office in Pennsylvania. And if you have the cash on hand to follow through, there’s little your opponent can do to stop you.
“Pennsylvania has an electoral system that is extremely biased against third parties and independents,” says Chris Robinson, at-large member of the Philadelphia Green Party City Committee. “This should be obvious to every voter because you never see a third party or independent on the ballot when you go to vote, and that means that the voter is deprived of choices that they should have.”
The Pennsylvania State Charter defines any political, statewide party as an established group which has, in the preceding statewide election, polled at least 2 percent of the “largest entire vote cast for any elected candidate in each of at least 10 counties, and polled a total statewide vote of at least 2% of the largest entire vote cast in the State for any elected candidate…”
Let’s say you’re an Independent, Green, Libertarian or whatever else. If your party’s total statewide registration is less than 15 percent at the close of the last election (and it is), you’re considered a minor party. Then, in order to get on the ballot, you need to collect signatures that represent 2 percent of the highest vote-getter in the state’s previous election. For instance, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein will likely need 20,601 signatures to run for office in Pennsylvania in the 2012 elections. That number is based on 2 percent of the 2011 vote for David Wecht for Superior Court judge, who received 1,030,004 votes. Robinson says Pa.’s Green Party—anticipating all kinds of challenges—is shooting to get 40,000 nominating signatures. By comparison, President Obama will need only 2,000. As will the eventual Republican nominee.
But 40,000 may still not be enough. In 2006, Carl Romanelli, Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate, was required to turn in an unprecedented 67,000 signatures to get on the ballot because in 2004, a presidential year, then-state Treasurer candidate Bob Casey Jr. earned 3.4 million votes, the most in the state. Romanelli turned in nearly 100,000 signatures, the largest total in state history. He still got the boot—and was ordered to pay his opponents’ legal fees.