It’s not that Gov. Tom Wolf opposes a federal judge’s order to make life easier for third-party political candidates. In fact, a spokesman said, Mr. Wolf supports legislation to do just that. But the Wolf administration says it isn’t sure how to respond to the ruling itself, which is why it’s appealing to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “The governor certainly supports access for minor and aspiring parties,” Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said. Still, a July opinion by U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel “left open questions that require resolution.” Pennsylvania law requires minor-party candidates seeking statewide office to obtain tens of thousands of signatures to appear on the November ballot. Democrats and Republicans need no more than 2,000 signatures to compete in the primary, where success guarantees a ballot spot in November.
What’s more, major parties can challenge a minor party’s signatures in court — a legal fight many candidates can’t afford. “The ability of the minor parties to organize and voice their views has been decimated” by having to defend so many signatures, Judge Stengel ruled.
Clear enough. Less clear is what the Wolf administration is supposed to do about it.
Pennsylvania elections are administered by the Department of State and its elections bureau, and the lawsuit named the heads of those offices as defendants. But as the state argued in a Sept. 11 legal filing, signature challenges “can only be raised by private individuals or groups.” In statewide races, such disputes are decided by the Commonwealth Court, and “the Department of State has no role in that process.”