ALLENTOWN, PA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court a Commonwealth Court decision removing from the ballot Carl Stevenson, an independent candidate running for a state House seat in the 134th district (parts of Berks and Lehigh counties). Earlier this month a Commonwealth Court judge disqualified 97 of his petition signatures because they were obtained by someone who did not reside in the district. The statute requiring petition circulators to reside in the electoral district was declared unconstitutional by a federal court in 2002.
"Requiring petition circulators to be residents of the election district is a serious burden on independent and minor party candidates' ability to gather the signatures necessary to get on the ballot, and there is no good reason for the requirement," said Witold "Vic" Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, who is representing Stevenson.
Walczak noted that every federal court that has considered a challenge to residency requirements for petition circulators has declared them to violate the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. In 2002, a federal judge ruled in Morrill v. Weaver that Pennsylvania's residency requirement for nominating petition circulators violated the First Amendment. As part of the ruling, the judge issued a permanent injunction preventing the commonwealth of Pennsylvania from enforcing the law.
Under Pennsylvania law, as an independent candidate Stevenson was required to collect 577 signatures from registered voters in the district to appear on the ballot. Nowhere in the materials provided to him by the Pennsylvania Department of State did it require that the people obtaining the signatures needed to be residents of the district; they must simply be "qualified electors," which has been interpreted to mean eligible voters in Pennsylvania. In fact, Department of State personnel advised Stevenson that the district-residency requirement had been declared unconstitutional.
Alburtis Mayor Robert Mader and Michael Gibson of the Emmaus Republican Committee challenged Stevenson's nominating petitions on behalf of the Republican candidate and incumbent in the race, Doug Reichley. Without the 97 signatures gathered by the individual from outside his district, Stevenson would not have enough signatures to appear on the ballot.
In its ruling against Stevenson, the Commonwealth Court refused to respect the federal court's injunction in Morrill v. Weaver, writing that "decisions of the federal district courts and courts of appeal … are not binding on Pennsylvania courts, even when a federal question is involved."
"It's disturbing that the major parties will spend so much money, time, and effort in their efforts to maintain a stranglehold on our political system," said Stevenson, who is also the president of WK3C Wireless, a consulting firm. "If they only worked half as hard listening to the people instead of trying to run our lives for us, the world would be a better place."
"Pennsylvania is one of the toughest states for independent and minor-party candidates to get on the ballot because they require such a high number of signatures," said Walczak. "The state shouldn't be able to further handcuff candidates by imposing unwarranted and unconstitutional restrictions on who can collect petition signatures."
In addition to Walczak, Stevenson is represented by ACLU-PA staff attorney Mary Catherine Roper.
- More information about the case, including a copy of the Commonwealth Court's decision, the appeal, and the Morrill v. Weaver decision