Green leads ballot access effort in Pennsylvania
by Bob Small, Chair of the Green Party of Delaware County and delegate to the Green Party of the United States.†
When it first met in late December 2004, the multi-party Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition (PaBAC) only agreed on one vital item: that Pennsylvania ballot access – which is so restrictive it is the only state ever cited in the annual Helsinki Report of voting rights – needed to be changed. ††
The coalition agreed to focus on one purpose: to define what fairer ballot access would mean. This would be then presented to the public in forums. Together, members crafted a Voter’s Choice Act, or VCA, basing it on a model that works well in Delaware.
Initially the Green Party, represented by myself, Robert Small, called a meeting of representatives of such third parties as Constitution, Green, Libertarian, Reform and Socialist, along with Independents and the Nader Campaign. These are the major players in Pennsylvania third-party politics. There was some participation from other smaller parties and from Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, who helped through e-mail and phone conferences.
Many of the members of the coalition had already participated in another group, Democracy Unplugged, which I co-founded to be a source for area representatives of independent and third party candidates to state their views through forums. As this is a multi-party group that functions well, it seemed that some of the same people would work together for fairer Ballot Access in Pennsylvania.
In the most egregious example of unfair ballot access in Pennsylvania, Green candidate Carl Romanelli is still being charged $80,000 for daring to run against Bob Casey for U.S. Senate in 2006. Many of the petition signatures were found invalid in a case now known as Bonusgate.†
The coalition agreed to focus on one purpose: to define what fairer ballot access would mean.
There were extreme irregularities involved in Bonusgate, such as state Democratic workers being awarded bonuses for conducting campaign activity while supposedly working for the state. Included in those activities was finding ways to invalidate signatures on Romanelliís petitions and challenge them at petition hearings. A Democratic judge even charged Romanelli court costs, despite the fact that a coterie of lawyers representing the Democratic Party had initiated the court challenge, and typically the plaintiffs are charged court costs when frivolous lawsuits are filed.
Previous to Romanelliís case, presidential candidate Ralph Nader was thrown off the Ballot in 2004 and is being charged $80,000 in court fees, even though it has been revealed his campaign was also targeted in the same sort of illegal activity by state workers to invalidate his petitions.
What are the signature requirements in Pennsylvania and what makes it so difficult for third parties and independents to obtain signatures? In 2006 and this year, ballot access requires 67,000 signatures. Because of petition challenges third parties and independents need a cushion, and must collect almost twice that number.
In 2008, the requirement was a relatively light 27,000 signatures, but the only non-major party presidential candidates that made it on the ballot were Bob Barr (Libertarian) and Ralph Nader. Barr, however, had to withstand a sustained GOP legal barrage. Both numbers are based on the absurd formula of having to have, in valid petition signatures, two percent of the number of votes the highest vote-getter received in a state-wide election from the previous year.
Though it’s taken over four years, a ballot access bill has been introduced in committee at the state legislature. Hopefully, enough sponsors can be found to move it to the floor. There have been many distractions over the last four years, including mislaid verbal promises for introduction, introduction of totally inadequate bills, and campaigns of disinformation by forces within the two major parties. The PaBAC has supported numerous legal challenges to the prevailing ballot access laws.
PaBAC members have learned they can work together while not agreeing on other topics, and have even attended each other’s events. There have been PaBac forums at both state and national Green Party meetings. †A dynamic rally was held in September 2006 in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in support of fairer ballot access. Members have also worked cooperatively on fundraisers and other events. Hopefully this is a model other state Green parties can use to try to effect change and also to learn to work together.
For more information of PaBAC, go to: www.paballotaccess.org