HARRISBURG — The Libertarian Party has overcome one legal hurdle, moving closer to getting on the ballot, despite the Republican Party’s relentless efforts to fight for votes in the presidential election.
Three Commonwealth Court judges Thursday ruled that about 9,000 signatures the Libertarian Party collected and the GOP contested were valid, even though the addresses did not match those in the state’s voter registry files.
With those signatures counting toward the required total of 20,600, Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson is less than 600 signatures away from qualifying for the ballot, said Tom Stevens, chairman of the Pennsylvania Libertarian Party.
“I’m very optimistic that we will get on the ballot, unless the ruling by Commonwealth Court is reversed by the Supreme Court,” Stevens said.
The Republican-backed objectors to Johnson’s signatures are appealing the ruling to the state Supreme Court, but no date for a hearing has been set.
Valerie Caras, spokeswoman for the state GOP, said the Commonwealth Court ruling would have significant consequences on the integrity of Pennsylvania’s ballot access process.
“The Libertarian Party’s nominating petitions riddled with errors, duplicate signatures and in some cases, blatant fraud,” she wrote in an email Friday.
Johnson is on the ballot in 47 states and the District of Columbia, according to the national Libertarian Party, but he faces challenges in Michigan.
In 2008, Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr qualified for 45 states, not including Pennsylvania.
Unlike Johnson, Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein, a physician from Massachusetts, qualified for the ballot in Pennsylvania. Neither major party challenged her place.
Constitution Party presidential nominee Virgil Goode, a congressman from Virginia, withdrew from the Pennsylvania ballot after a challenge from the state Republican Party.
Pennsylvania’s ballot access laws are generally regarded as the toughest in the United States for third parties.
In 2006, Pennsylvania was named by the Helsinki Accords as one of the worst places in the world to have a free election. The Helsinki Accords is an international group that monitors elections. The group specifically pointed to Pennsylvania as an example of how ballot access laws in the United States limit some groups’ rights to participate in elections.
“It is a tragedy that we have to go through this process,” Stevens said. “It costs hundreds of man-hours and expense of funds that limit our ability to campaign.”
While polling that includes Johnson is limited, a poll this week from the Albuquerque Journal indicated he may pose a threat to Democrats as well. In New Mexico — where Johnson was governor from 1995 through 2002 and President Barack Obama won by 15 points in 2008 — Johnson was pulling more votes away from Obama than Romney.
Polling in Colorado has indicated a similar effect, but national surveys generally show Johnson’s candidacy to be more of a concern for Romney than Obama.
Johnson is scheduled to speak Monday at West Chester University in West Chester to kick off a three-week campaign tour of colleges and universities nationwide.
This story was updated on 9/17/12 to correct the spelling of Tom Stevens’ name.
Contact Eric Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.