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Third Parties File Covid Suit Over Pennsylvania Ballot Rules (1)

May 15, 2020, 5:20 PMUpdated: May 15, 2020, 8:46 PM

Pennsylvania’s requirements for in-person signature collection for third parties to qualify for the November ballot are unconstitutional in light of the Covid-19 public health emergency, the state’s Libertarian, Constitution, and Green parties argue in a new federal lawsuit.

The parties should be allowed access to the ballot without the in-person signatures, because it will be nearly impossible or very unsafe to collect them, they argue.

The state classifies “minor political parties” as those that received less than 15% of total statewide registration, and “political bodies” as groups that don’t pass a certain threshold of votes cast in the most recent general election. Candidates of such parties must collect a certain number of voter signatures, which varies based on the elected office, for their candidates to appear on the general election ballot.

These signatures must be collected and witnessed in-person. The deadline to turn in these signatures this year is Aug. 3.

“The public health emergency caused by COVID-19 and the various ‘stay at home’ orders issued by Governor Wolf make it unlawful and practically impossible to gather signatures for nomination papers in Pennsylvania,” the plaintiffs argue in their suit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Even if the emergency measures are lifted before the deadline, it will remain difficult “if not practically impossible” to collect the required signatures without endangering the health and lives of petition circulators, potential signatories, and the public at large, they say.

The plaintiffs argue that there are safer and less burdensome alternatives to in-person signature collection, such as online petitioning.

Causes of Action: First Amendment, equal protection and due process clauses of Fourteenth Amendment.

Relief Requested: Order the state to accept candidates’ nomination papers without the signatures.

Response: The office of Governor Tom Wolf (D) didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment. The office of Kathy Boockvar, secretary of the commonwealth, declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Attorneys: The plaintiffs are represented by Anderson & Labovitz LLC.

The case is Libertarian Party of Pa. v. Wolf, E.D. Pa., No. 5:20-cv-02299, filed 5/14/20.

(Added response from secretary's office)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Flood in Washington at bflood@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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