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September 6, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Details muddy validity of signatures in Johnson ballot challenge

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party candidate for president, must have 20,601 valid signatures to get on the Pennsylvania ballot.

HARRISBURG — After days of tedious signature scrutinizing in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, the race to get Libertarian Gary Johnson on Pennsylvania’s presidential ballot is coming down to the details.

The Pennsylvania Libertarian Party needs 20,601 valid signatures to secure Johnson’s ballot line. But is a signature valid on a petition if the address doesn’t match the state’s voter registry? And what constitutes a valid date?

A panel of three Commonwealth Court judges will answer these types of questions next week, and neither side show signs of backing down.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party first challenged the petition to get Johnson on the ballot. Now, after scores of volunteers from both parties have reviewed more than 49,000 signatures to determine their validity, around 15,000 are still in question and thousands of others were thrown out.

The Libertarian Party estimates it is around 4,000 signatures away from getting Johnson on the ballot.

Tom Stevens, president of the Pennsylvania Libertarian Party, said this vetting process is just one way to keep two-party control and calls for easier ballot access for all third parties.

“The process is the equivalent of dealing with a pit bull on steroids biting at my arm, my leg, my head, my hair,” Stevens said. “It’s a ridiculous process to have to go through just to get allow the voter an opportunity to vote for somebody.”

Adding insult to injury, should the party lose its challenge, it may have to pay the opposing side’s legal fees, he said.

To determine what signatures were valid, two volunteer reviewers, one from each party, cross-referenced the name of the person with the state’s voter registration cards. It could go one of three ways: The signature is valid, invalid or contested.

Stevens said in some cases, validity could come down to misreading one letter. It’s “extremely technical,” he said.

So far, both parties deemed around 16,000 signatures valid, said Paul Rossi, attorney for the Pennsylvania Libertarian Party.

Other issues such as addresses that differ from what are on the voter registry and incomplete dates will be left to the judges to address. Rossi said signatures falling into those categories total around 6,000 – meaning if the party’s defense on those points is successful, it’ll be enough to secure Johnson’s candidacy.

Rossi said he’s confident the party can win those arguments in court next week, based on federal law supremacy for address laws and when the petitions were printed.

“The date that the petition was redrafted is on the petition and was put on there by the Secretary of State,” Rossi said. “Everyone knows these are all 2012 signatures.”

But Ron Hicks, an attorney representing the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said the state statute is clear on what defines a valid signature on a petition. There must be a printed name, a signature, a house number, street name, city and a full date, including the year.

“The election code requires that certain people have a threshold, and we don’t believe they’ve met that threshold,” Hicks said.

Valerie Caras, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said duplicate signatures and those of dead voters were uncovered in the review process, along with signatures of people not registered to vote.

“Our view as a party is we continue to stand behind the objection to the petition based on the fact that there (are) just serious, serious problems with them, and it’s clear, blatant fraud in some cases,” she said.

Third parties in Pennsylvania have a much higher threshold to get on the ballot. Those candidates must obtain a specific number of signatures calculated off the number of voters from the past election, while Democratic and Republican candidates each need to secure a flat 2,000.

Ed Reagan, of Easton, was a lifelong Republican who joined the Libertarian Party this year. He came to Harrisburg this week to join the team of volunteers to review signatures.

Reagan said the state law regarding third-party candidacy is fundamentally unfair.

“I think the process in Pennsylvania is broken, and you have to keep fighting the process until the process gets fixed,” Reagan said.

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Melissa Daniels is a reporter for PA Independent. She can be reached at 717-350-0962 or Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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