Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Hidden voices should be heard

More than 165,000 Pennsylvania residents signed nominating petitions this year to place third-party and independent candidates on the Nov. 7 ballot. But you won't find most of those candidates on the ballot.

This is Pennsylvania, where Democrats and Republicans don't want voters to have a choice other than one of their hand-picked candidates.

Russ Diamond, the founder of PaCleanSweep, is one of the names you won't find on the ballot Tuesday. Diamond gathered 38,000 signatures to run as an independent for governor. That's 20 times more signatures than those required by Ed Rendell or Lynn Swann. But Diamond failed to make the ballot because he could not meet the 67,000-signature requirement set by an archaic formula in the state constitution.

Even when a third-party candidate gathers enough signatures, Democrat and Republican party bosses have ways to knock them off the ballot. A perfect example of this is Carl Romanelli, the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania. Romanelli collected 99,802 nominating signatures to have his name put on the ballot next to Sen. Rick Santorum and Bob Casey Jr., but the Casey campaign and the Democratic Party took Romanelli to court.

A state judge ruled that Romanelli did not have enough valid signatures on his petitions so he kicked Romanelli off the ballot. Our Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves. This is what passes for Democracy in modern-day Pennsylvania. Two political parties control elections and can disenfranchise thousands of their fellow citizens, with the blessing of the courts.

The state Constitution guarantees that "Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage."

Where is that Constitutional protection for Russ Diamond, Carl Romanelli and hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters who don't want to register as Republican or Democrat?

The Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg last week to bring attention to the denial of constitutional rights to so many Pennsylvanians.

Each of the speakers was introduced as a "hidden voice" by Ken Krawchuk, a perennial Libertarian Party candidate and an officer in the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition.

Because of restrictive ballot access laws, Pennsylvania is one of only four states where third-party candidates will not be allowed to run for statewide office this year.

In addition to Diamond and Romanelli, several other candidates denied access to the 2006 ballot attended the press conference: Ronald W. Satz, Libertarian Party candidate for governor; Hagan Smith, Constitution Party candidate for governor; Tom Martin, Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. Senate) and Carl C. Edwards, Constitution Party candidate for U.S. Senate.

While some third-party candidates will be on the ballot for state legislative races, including Libertarian James Babb in Montgomery County's 157th state House District and Jeff Brindle, Socialist Party candidate for Chester County's 26th state House District, there are no candidates for governor, lieutenant governor or U.S. senator on Tuesday's ballot.

While the Democratic Party and Bob Casey are to blame for keeping Romanelli off the ballot, the Republican Party also wants to restrict ballot access. The only reason the two dominant parties have offered to deny third-party candidates access to elections is something they're calling "ballot clutter."

In other words, Republicans and Democrats think Pennsylvania voters are too dumb to choose a governor or a senator from a list of five candidates. They can only handle two: Rendell or Swann.

Never mind that in 2002, Democratic primary voters picked from nine candidates for lieutenant governor or in 2004, Democratic Party voters had 11 presidential candidates on the primary ballot. And in some legislative races this May, up to five Democrats or Republicans were on the ballot.

Pennsylvania's two-party monopoly (or should that be duopoly?) is a disgrace. The two major political parties and the courts have schemed for too long to deny Pennsylvania voters their most basic of rights.

If you are a member of the Libertarian Party, Green Party, Constitution Party, America First Party, Reform Party, Prohibition Party, Socialist Party or Unified Independent Party, you are a second class citizen.

If you're looking for another reason to vote out incumbents on Tuesday, keep in mind that most of the Democrats and Republicans on the ballot don't want you to have a choice.

The only recourse is to elect new candidates to the state Legislature and make sure they support the Voters' Choice Act. So far, only a handful of incumbent legislators have shown the courage to publicly support the bill. That list, along with more background about free and equal elections, is posted on the coalition's Web site,

In the meantime, there is something you can do Tuesday if you don't want to give Gov. Ed Rendell four more years as governor but you can't bring yourself to elect Lynn Swann. Same goes for the Santorum-Casey race. As a protest to the limits the major parties place on your right to choose, you can write in the names of third-party candidates.

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at