HARRISBURG, Pa. - A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request from minor political parties to reduce the number of signatures required to place their candidates on the statewide ballot.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said a formula that requires minor party candidates to collect 67,070 signatures this year is constitutional and reflects a legitimate state interest.
Jones said he was sympathetic to the plight of the parties and candidates who sought to overturn the law. He urged the General Assembly to reconsider the law, but he declined to issue a preliminary injunction that would invalidate it.
Jones wrote that he is not "a super-legislature, but rather a court of law, and thus we decline to supplant our wisdom in place of that of the Commonwealth's elected officials."
Jones said he shares the state government's concern that, without some standard to make minor parties demonstrate a minimum level of support, the ballot could become cluttered and confusing.
"Undoubtedly, and in particular during these contentious times in Pennsylvania politics, some will brand this concern as undemocratic in that it places little faith in the ability of voters to sort out a potentially long general election ballot," Jones said.
Robert Small, founder of the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition, said his organization will next seek changes to state law that will loosen access.
"We'll have to go back to Plan A, which is trying to get it through the state Legislature," Small said.
Republican and Democratic candidates for governor and U.S. Senate this year needed 2,000 signatures to make it onto the May 16 primary ballot.
But the signature requirement for others is 2 percent of the ballots cast for the largest vote-getter in the last statewide election race, which was Treasurer Bob Casey's record of nearly 3.4 million votes in 2004.
Sam Stretton, attorney for the plaintiffs, said he was disappointed in the ruling and said the parties have already shown public support by qualifying as minor parties under the state Election Code.
"I think it's a serious First Amendment violation and an equal protection violation, so we're going to let the 3rd Circuit (Court of Appeals) take a look at this," he said.
A spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office said the third-party access rules fit within the limits of the state constitution.
The lawsuit is being pursued by the Green and Constitution parties, the Green Party candidate for governor, the Constitution Party candidate for governor and the Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. Senate. The defendant is Secretary of State Pedro Cortes.