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Federal judge's order against Pa. called 'huge win' for minor-party candidates

| Friday, July 1, 2016, 2:33 p.m.

A federal judge in Philadelphia issued an order Friday that significantly reduces the number of signatures required for minor-party candidates to seek statewide office in Pennsylvania.

“This is a huge win for voter choice and free elections in Pennsylvania,” said Oliver Hall, an attorney and director for the Washington-based Center for Competitive Democracy.

The Constitution, Green and Libertarian parties sued Pennsylvania's Secretary of State and elections chief in 2012 over ballot access.

Republican and Democratic candidates are required to collect at least 2,000 signatures on nomination petitions to get on their parties' primary ballots. Independent or third-party candidates can't be on primary ballots, and the number of signatures required for them to get on November ballots has needed to equal at least 2 percent of the largest number of votes cast for an elected candidate in the previous election.

In the past three presidential election years, the number of votes cast ranged from 20,601 to 25,697, court documents show.

In his order Friday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel set uniform requirements that will apply “until such time as the Pennsylvania Legislature enacts a permanent measure amending or modifying the process” for minor-party candidates to get on ballots. The filing deadline for nominating petitions for this year's election is Aug. 1.

Constitution, Green and Libertarian party candidates for president, U.S. Senate and governor are required to collect at least 5,000 signatures, while candidates for lieutenant governor, treasurer, auditor general, attorney general, Supreme Court justice, Superior Court judge and Commonwealth Court will need at least 2,500 signatures, according to the order.

While the order applies specifically to the Constitution, Green and Libertarian parties, Hall said “any other minor-party or independent candidate who tried to get on the ballot would have a very good argument that they should be permitted to benefit from the judgment as well.” They would have to get approval from Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortes or, if he refused, a court, Hall said.

Bob Goodrich, chairman of Pennsylvania's Constitution Party, celebrated the decision.

“It does make for a level playing field for all candidates,” Goodrich said, noting the party is working to collect enough signatures to get Constitution Party presidential nominee Darrell Castle of Tennessee and other party candidates on the Pennsylvania ballot.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or

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