Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

U.S. Judge Eases Pa. Ballot Rules for Third-Party Candidates

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

U.S. Judge Eases Pa. Ballot Rules for Third-Party Candidates

Article excerpt

A federal judge has made it easier for third-party candidates to appear on the state ballot this November, possibly adding a new variable into an already dizzying presidential election.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued an order asserting that presidential candidates in three minor parties - the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and the Constitution Party - will need only 5,000 voters to sign their nominating petitions. That's roughly a quarter of the 21,775 signatures they would have needed under the old rules.

The order "restores voter choice to Pennsylvania elections, which has been absent other than the major parties," said Oliver Hall, an attorney who represented the minor parties. "Now people can decide if they want to vote for someone else entirely, and that's how our elections should work."

Major-party candidates need only 2,000 signatures to get on the primary ballot - where a win ensures a space in November. But previously, minor-party statewide candidates were obliged to meet a threshold equal to 2 percent of the previous statewide vote-count. In past years, that has required candidates to obtain up to 67,000 signatures.

Mr. Hall said that even under the old rules, it was "close to a certainty" that the third-party contenders would have won spots on the 2016 ballot. But Thursday's ruling also makes it harder to remove them.

Previously, if the legitimacy of a candidate's signatures was successfully challenged in court, the winner could recoup the legal costs of doing so. In 2004, for example, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader was billed over $80,000.

Judge Stengel's ruling restricts the ability to assess such costs. That was "absolutely a load off our minds," said Shawn Patrick House, who chairs the state Libertarian Party.

Signature requirements for other races are also lower. Candidates for auditor general, treasurer, and attorney general - all of which are on this year's ballot - must procure 2,500 signatures. …

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