Thursday, January 12, 2006

Third Party Candidates in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is not a friendly state for third party candidates. Consider this statement from a Patriot News article:

Libertarians, Socialists and Constitution Party members who want to run for governor this year would have to collect about 67,000 signatures to have their names appear next to the Republican and Democratic candidates.

Democratic and Republican candidates need only collect 2,000 signatures.

(read the entire article here; via politicspa)

This is based on a mathematical formula. According to the Centre Daily:

To qualify for the ballot, independent candidates and minor-party nominees for statewide office must gather at least as many voters' signatures as 2 percent of the ballots cast for the largest vote-getter in the last statewide election race.

Because there was no statewide race last year, this year's threshold is based on the 2004 election, in which state Treasurer Bob Casey won nearly 3.4 million votes -- more than any candidate in the state's history.

Read the entire article here.

Third Party Watch also has some information here.

Of course, there were some other shenanigans going on when Ralph Nader ran for office in 2004 (details here).

It's not that I necessarily want the political landscape to be littered with Libertarians, Greens, and people like Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura, but a little variety would be nice. This is especially true in local elections where party affiliation may not be all that important and the two larger parties can't always field a candidate against an incumbent. Or, more importantly where one party has a lock on local politics and the voters have little choice but to go along with the powers that be. There's no harm in a few more Davids going up against a few more Goliaths in township and borough elections. Since these are often the pipelines for statewide office, it is even more difficult for third parties to break into the electoral system. It is hard enough to persuade qualified civic-minded people to wade into the political cesspool we have created. Let's not discourage any more would-be candidates than we have to.


John Featherman said...


The ballot access system is patently unfair to third-party and independent candidates. Back in 2000, I co-chaired the ballot access drive for the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania. And yes, we needed to get the valid signatures of almost 22,000 registered voters in PA to get our candidates on the statewide ballot. The number of signatures we needed was equal to 2% of the highest voter getter in the last statewide election. Of course, 22,000 pales in comparison to the 67,000 they need now. And actually, they will need more than 67,000 if they get challenged. To survive a challenge, they'll probably need at least 80,000.

The people that can change the rules come from the two party system, which I am now a member of. So it's self-serving for the major parties to do nothing and keep the third-parties down. It's wrong, and, hopefully, the major parties will receive fall-out -- similar to how the public reacted to the pay raise -- once the PA voters find out about this onerous petitioning task.

The ballot access drive for statewide third-party candidates and independents depletes their limited economic and human resources, and makes them have to focus on the battle for inclusion rather than the battle for ideas.

John Featherman
Republican Candidate, US Senate-PA

LVDem said...

First, John, can you please make public any appearances that include you in a Cow Suit. Our paths have crossed already on line regarding this matter, but since I was unprepared in 2000 at Dickinson College, I would like to be prepared this time. I love candidates with quirky personality. I probably won't vote for you (sorry, not a libertarian or a registered R), but you will have my respect. Take that for what you will.

Back to the topic: frankly I'm shocked that more suits (not cow, law) haven't popped up on this matter. Our country has affirmed one person one vote for decades. I think it can be reasonably argued that forcing parties to reach a higher threshold contradicts the one person one vote idea even before votes are cast. Why should one party have to demonstrate a greater critical mass to be placed on the ballot than another party? If this can't be challenged on that premise, than it can surely be challenged on other 14th Amendment groups.

I would like to see an amended process that would eliminate the high barrior to entry for the other parties and have the barrior for entry raised for ALL parties from 2,000 to perhaps something like 10,000 for statewide office. This would ensure that we don't get too many porn stars running for office (see California recall which had pages of candidates) but it would allow principled folks not affiliated with the major parties to obtain a reasonably high level of signatures to demonstrate a base of support.

Jamison said...

I agree with IVDem, it offends my Democratic sensibilities that there are higher barriers to entry for one group than another. Something should really be done about it. I also agree about the California problem, but everyone should have to do the work. It would be nice because it would give the voters a pre-voting chance to actually shape who gets on the ballot. Unpopular candidates couldn't get enough signatures to get on the ballot at all no matter their party. Seems to me it would yield better candidates and better races.

John Featherman said...

LVDem and Mandrake,

First, that was me in the Cowsuit. I got little publicity back then as a third-party candidate, and dressing up at least gave me some visibility to promote my pro-choice views in a race in which both the Democrat (Ron Klink) and Santorum were in favor of criminalizing abortion. So, I'm glad once again that you remembered me, LVDem.

Second, I agree with both of you. There should be a higher signature level (10,000 for statewide is a good idea, LVDem), and it should apply to all candidates, regardless of political party/political body.