Friday, August 04, 2006

Russ Diamond: Petition Challenge Industry Gears Up


Russ Diamond is always welcome here. We are happy to see him continuing his work begun a little over a year ago. His is a voice that all should heed.
PACleanSweep Opinion
by Russ Diamond
August 4, 2006

Petition Challenge Industry Gears Up

The underbelly of politics has become big business in Pennsylvania, tipping the scales even further toward incumbent protection.

Newspapers and other media outlets have been brimming of late with news of the success or failure of various potential candidates in collecting a sufficient number of signatures to qualify for ballot access.

Most of these accounts have focused on the various strict regulations, significant hurdles and the absolute requirement for attention to detail by elective hopefuls. Mostly unreported, however, has been what happens after the petitioning process is complete and nominating petitions are turned in to the Department of State.

The petition challenge, somewhat of a rarity in the past, has now become the norm in Pennsylvania, employing countless lawyers, experts and consultants as hit-men to knock opponents off the ballot.

For those who offer their services in this capacity - sometimes billing in excess of $400 per hour - this now-regular seasonal business adds up to big bucks. This helps to further exacerbate the incumbent protection program we've all heard so much about over the last year, as only those candidates with vast resources at their disposal can afford a detailed review of an opponent's petitions.

Before this year's primary, PACleanSweep tried to counter this imbalance by educating its candidates on the particulars of reviewing petitions, urging them to conduct reviews on their own behalf and by employing additional volunteers in the
effort.

Roadmap to Reform

One result of these reviews was a confirmation that Pennsylvania's ballot access requirements are so tedious that even incumbents find it necessary to bend the rules - or cheat outright - in an effort to insure their political futures.

One incumbent was forced to withdraw in the face of a blatantly false sworn affidavit. Another successfully obtained the signatures of dead people. Others qualified for the primary ballot with the help of "signatures" from many voters who all - oddly - had the exact same handwriting.

On the other side of the coin, one incumbent successfully challenged three different opponents off the primary ballot. Although PACleanSweep candidates did have a few minor victories in petition challenges, the very fact that challenges are
becoming the norm is a sad commentary.

To make matters worse, court decisions in petition challenges are extremely difficult to predict. The official interpretation of what's legal and what isn't seems to change from year to year. In addition, different judges or panels can interpret the law differently in the same year.

For those who wish to run for office in Pennsylvania, this only leads to uncertainty, a need to far exceed the official number of signatures required by law and the need to set aside a great amount of resources - just in case of a challenge - which could be better utilized to inform voters of positions on the issues.

Qualifying for the ballot in Pennsylvania has essentially become a crap shoot. Armed with the right legal team, selective precedent and the prevailing whims of the courts, any candidate could be successfully disqualified from participating.

Overall, the Commonwealth's qualifying process serves to benefit a few - incumbents and paid experts - and put prospective challengers and newcomers at a distinct disadvantage. In the end, it's the voters who suffer, as their choices are limited due to technicalities and legal loopholes.

Pennsylvania's ballot access laws are complex, inequitable and arcane. It's time to simplify them in the interest of increasing competition and providing more choices for voters. More choices will ultimately lead to better government, as competition makes the cream rise to the top.

Unfortunately, this is not in the best interest of the ballot access hit-men and hired guns who are pocketing vast amounts of money in the business of politics. And of course, changing the law requires the cooperation of incumbents, an act which would threaten their very livelihood.

About PACleanSweep
PACleanSweep is a non-partisan effort dedicated to defeating incumbent elected officials in Pennsylvania and replacing them with true public servants. For more information, please visit
http://www.pacleansweep.com/. Contact Russ Diamond at chair@pacleansweep.com
Thanks Russ, and come back again soon! You are always welcome here.

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