Ballot Access Eased For Third-Party, Independent Candidates

Feb 12, 2018

Third-party and independent candidates will have an easier time running for office in Pennsylvania following settlement of a longstanding federal lawsuit.

The settlement approved by a federal judge earlier this month includes a provision that such candidates will need far fewer petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Such candidates running for U.S. senator, governor or state row offices previously had to get at least 2 percent of the votes cast for the top statewide vote-getter in the last general election, which could total more than 30 times the number required for Democrats and Republicans.

The court agreement caps the signature requirement at 5,000 for third-party candidates running for president, Senate and governor, and at 2,500 for all other statewide races.

It also dismisses fines related to legal challenges, which have run in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The Green Party of Pennsylvania on Monday issued a statement calling the decision "a major victory for democracy."

"This is a day that, not only our adversaries, but also our friends, never thought we'd see," said Carl Romanelli, a 2006 U.S. Senate candidate thrown off the ballot following a challenge. "It also shows that folks of varied political views can come together for the betterment of all."

Libertarian Dale Kerns also hailed the decision.

"If I'm not spending months on end trying to fight to get on the ballot, well then we can spend all of our time campaigning and talking about the ideas with voters and debating with each other, so that the election is actually what it's supposed to be," he told the Inquirer.

Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, said Pennsylvania had some of the most restrictive rules for ballot access in the country before the court ruling.

“It really does lessen the burden on third parties,” he said. “I would imagine with all things being equal, it will increase the number of candidates that we’ll see on Pennsylvania ballots as long as it’s enforced.”

Borick said fundraising and gathering public attention are still large hurdles third parties and independents face.

The ruling doesn't apply to congressional candidates, meaning third-party candidates for the U.S. House must still get 2 percent of the highest vote-getter in the previous election.

"We truly hope the Legislature will act and properly reform our state's election issues," said Jocolyn Bowser-Bostick, a member of the Green Party's steering committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

*This story was updated at 3:21 p.m. Feb. 13, 2018.