PHILADELPHIA (CN) - Pennsylvania's Election Code allows the state to remove perfectly good signatures from third-party candidate nomination papers, the state's Green and Libertarian parties claim in Federal Court.
The two parties, their chairmen and members, sued Pennsylvania Commonwealth Secretary Carol Aichele and Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation Commissioner Jonathan Marks, on constitutional claims.
The parties claim that Pennsylvania favors major party candidates by enforcing "various ancient and antiquated requirements of 25 P.S. 2911(a), (c) and (d) of the Pennsylvania Election Code ... imposing specific unconstitutional constraints on plaintiff's exercise of core political speech."
Among those restraints are "limits on who may circulate plaintiffs' nomination papers," and "rules and instructions designed to strike and/or threaten to strike otherwise constitutionally valid signatures from plaintiffs' nomination papers based on 'form over substance' rules," the parties say in the lawsuit.
"Specifically," according the 178-page complaint, "defendants have struck in the past, and threaten to strike in the immediate future, otherwise constitutionally protected and valid signatures from plaintiffs' nomination papers for violation of any one of ... unconstitutional ministerial restrictions imposed by of 25 P.S. 2911(a), (c) and (d) of the Pennsylvania Election Code in violation of plaintiffs' right to free speech, petition and association under the First and Fourteenth Amendments."
The plaintiffs claim that "the act of signing plaintiffs' nomination papers is [constitutionally protected] core political speech."
They claim that striking valid signatures from nomination papers "make(s) it more difficult for plaintiffs ... to recruit candidates to run for federal and state office because of the added time, expense and uncertainty of successfully securing the number of valid nomination paper signatures necessary to secure access to the Commonwealth's general election ballot."
They claim the "unconstitutional enforcement of the challenged provisions of 25 P.S. 2911 directly impose upon plaintiffs LPPA and the Green Party of Pennsylvania the requirement to collect more nomination paper signatures than required by law," as well as strike otherwise valid signatures from nomination papers, which imposes increased economic costs by "forcing them to hire additional paid circulators to gather the additional signatures on their nomination papers and offset the signatures imminently threatened to be struck."
According to the complaint: "The moment a Pennsylvania citizen exercises their fulsome [sic] First Amendment right of speech, petition and association to sign plaintiffs' nomination papers, the Commonwealth, and defendants acting under state law, lack plenary constitutional and/or statutory authority to legislate or otherwise impose their multitude of overlapping restrictions designed to strike citizen speech from plaintiffs' nomination papers for the signer's failure to comply with irrelevant substantive and/or ministerial requirements (many of which no longer serve a functional purpose in the computer age) that are not narrowly tailored to advance a compelling governmental or legitimate regulatory interest or are in direct conflict with controlling federal and/or state constitutional law and/or statutory law or which defendants lack statutory authority to impose."
Portions of the code challenged in the lawsuit include the "In-State Witness Restriction" that strikes anyone not a 'qualified elector' of Pennsylvania, the "Sworn Affidavit Requirement" that imposes electoral signature verification fees by forcing notary-approved affidavit execution at a minimum cost of more than $4,000, and the requirement of separate nomination papers for residents of different counties, which the parties call "a bizarre vestige of the pre-computer era."
Other challenged nomination paper requirements include a signature segregation requirement that reduces the number of signatures that can be recorded on each nomination paper, and a rule that a signer must record the year of recordation, which allows defendant to "willfully refuse to print the year of the election cycle on nomination papers in order to preserve their right to strike otherwise valid signatures from plaintiffs' nomination papers for the mistaken failure of the signer to record the year in which they signed plaintiffs' nomination papers," according to the complaint.
"In the real world, the space provided by defendants to comply with all of their nit-picky ministerial requirements is quite limited and restrained," the complaint states.
The parties and their candidates seek emergency temporary and permanent mandamus action to stop defendants from enforcing challenged Election Code provisions as well as an order for the immediate "re-draft and re-distribute nomination papers for the 2014 general election."