Organized Crime: Ballot Access Law and the Politics of Petitioning

The case of Carl Romanelli provides a window into the politics of petitioning and organized discrimination against third party candidates for office. In 2006, the would-be Green Party candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania waged a petition campaign to get his name on the ballot. He collected almost 100,000 signatures, well surpassing the required minimum of 60,070, but Democrats challenged almost 70,000, many of which were then discarded on technical grounds, and successfully keeping Romanelli off the ballot. The fallout from the legal battle that ensued is still making its way through the courts. The most recent judicial directive has ordered Romanelli to pay $80,000 to the parties that challenged his nominating petition – perhaps to thank them for the trouble! Moreover, and at the same time, Romanelli's case features prominently in an action brought by the State Attorney General against staffers to the state House Democratic Caucus, who "were charged with illegally giving state-funded bonuses to state employees for performing partisan political work, such as campaigning and challenging nomination petitions." Steve Mocarsky has the story at the Times Leader:
Days after the state Supreme Court denied his appeal, Carl Romanelli – a 2006 Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate – says he will continue to fight a Commonwealth Court decision directing him to pay more than $80,000 to the parties that challenged his nomination petition. . . . The day Romanelli filed his nominating petitions, which included 94,544 signatures – well over the 67,070 required – a caucus employee obtained copies of the petitions from the Department of State, and an army of caucus staffers went to work trying to find signatures to challenge, according to Corbett’s presentation. The goal was to enhance the election chances of the Democratic nominee, Robert Casey, by removing from the ballot a challenger whose vote tally would likely come at the expense of the Democratic candidate . . .

“If they allow this to become settled law, it will allow a precedent to be set,” Romanelli said of the state Supreme Court’s decision. “The next time a third-party candidate’s nomination petition is challenged, they can look at this case and say, ‘We know crimes were committed against the candidate, but that didn’t stop Democrats from collecting court costs in the Romanelli case.’ ”

Shawn Gallagher, an attorney representing the challengers of the nomination petition, said the court ruled appropriately. Gallagher said Commonwealth Court found that Romanelli and his attorney acted in bad faith during the proceedings.

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