Election code creates uphill race for third-party candidates

No cross filing, lack of primary positions hurt ballot access

By Joshua Stewart, York Daily Record/Sunday News, Sunday, October 30, 2005

Courtney Wege hopes to join the board for the Gettysburg Area School District. She has spent countless hours creating posters, writing letters, pounding the pavement and shaking hands.

She studied education in college and has talked to thousands of high-school students and administrators in the Northeast while working for the admissions department at Gettysburg College.

She has also received tons of encouragement and support, Wege said.

But Wege fears that when voters pull shut the curtain on the voting booth, all her efforts will have been in vain as voters follow their party's ballot.

As a Green Party candidate, Wege, and all other third-party candidates in Pennsylvania, cannot cross file like Republican and Democrat can, said Brian McDonald, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State. To cross file, candidates have to receive a party's endorsement in the primary, and only the two major parties have primaries, McDonald said.

In the Nov. 8 election, Wege faces four other candidates, all of whom appear on both of the two major parties' tickets.

Her situation illustrates the uphill battle facing any third-party candidate, whether from the Green, Libertarian, Independent or other party. She lacks the big voter base brought by the two major political parties, and feels like she has to work harder than her opponents to overcome the support they bring a candidate.

"We have to be more active in getting local recognition," Wege said. "The rest feel like they don't have to do anything."

The odds are stacked against third parties, said Marty Qually, secretary of the Adams County Green Party. By cross filing with one of the major parties, a Green could receive the recognition the major parties brings, he said.

"There may be people who like us who don't realize that we are on the ballot," Qually said.

The candidate, not the party, is what's important, Qually said.

"If there is a Republican who is running that is more qualified than a Green, I will vote for that Republican," Qually said.

While competing with the major political parties is tough, sometimes getting on the ballot is tougher, said former state Libertarian Chairman Ken Krawchuk.

Pennsylvania election code has requirements for third-party candidates that differ from the requirements for Democrats and Republicans.

To get on a statewide ballot, third-party candidates have to collect signatures equal to 2 percent of the total votes the most popular candidate, no matter the campaign, received in the last statewide election.

Democrats and Republicans need 2,000 signatures, no matter the outcome of the last election.

That difference awarded Pennsylvania an "F" in ballot access, according to a report by The Reform Institute, an organization chaired by U.S. Senator John McCain, R-Ariz.

"If we don't get the law changed, there are not going to be any third-party ballots at all next year," Krawchuk said.