Another legislative season will soon begin in Pennsylvania, and the state Green Party is still attempting to pressure a vote on a bill that would allow third-party candidates for state office easier access to the ballot. Their latest tactic: an online petition to pressure Harrisburg into a vote. Then, say supporters, there’s more to come. The petition asks supporters to sign in support of Senate Bill 195, introduced by Senator Mike Folmer (R-Berks) as mirror legislation to SB 21, which he introduced last session. Folmer’s bill would lower the standard as to what constitutes a third party and therefore does not require independent candidates to jump through hoops to get on the ballot, as is currently the case. The petition “demands” the bill move out of committee—it’s currently sitting in the State Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster)—to a hearing and then a vote in the full Senate. As we’ve documented before, these days, that basic legislative process is a lot to ask for any bill that doesn’t have the blessing of establishment Republicans.
“The Commonwealth’s election laws hinder the entry into the electoral process of independent candidates, thereby limiting the electoral choices available to voters of this Commonwealth,” notes the language of Senate Bill 195. “The political system of the Commonwealth should be electorally inclusive in order to promote the broadest range of issue discussion and candidate selection.”
Folmer, who ran on the issue of third-party ballot access during his initial 2006 election, introduced the bill four other senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties, including Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin), Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny), Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh) and Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne).
Folmer held a town hall meeting earlier this year to bring attention to his 2013 incarnation of the bill. “During the 2010 gubernatorial elections, Democratic and Republican candidates were required to collect 2,000 signatures, voter signatures, to appear on the primary election ballot,” noted Folmer at the town hall. “Meanwhile, minor party and independent candidates were required to get 19,082 signatures.”
This criterion, of course, makes it easier to perpetuate the two-party power structure in Pennsylvania. Since the threshold is so high for would-be third-party candidates, Democrats and Republicans are often able to successfully challenge the signatures of their grassroots rivals before Election Day. This past election cycle, the Constitution Party ticket was removed from the Pennsylvania ballot (despite their vice-presidential candidate residing in Lancaster County) and the Libertarian Party was challenged, though successfully defended itself.