Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pennsylvania lags behind on ballot access

Russ Diamond wants to give Pennsylvania voters a choice this November.

The founder of the PACleanSweep movement is running as an independent candidate for governor to give voters an alternative to Ed Rendell, a Democrat who has failed to deliver on his four-year-old promise of property tax relief for homeowners, and Republican Lynn Swann, who has never held public office.

The pundits give Diamond little chance of beating his better-known and well-financed opponents, but his biggest hurdle is getting on the ballot.

Pennsylvania, the birthplace of American democracy, is not very democratic when it comes to its elections.

While Rendell and Swann needed just 2,000 signatures to have their names placed on their respective primary ballots, an independent like Diamond must collect 67,070 names of registered voters to get his name on the ballot for the November general election. That's thirty-three times the number of signatures Republicans and Democrats need to get their candidates on the statewide ballot in 2006.

The Democrats and Republicans consider elections an invitation-only affair and unless you follow the party line, you’re out in the cold.

Diamond has until Aug. 1 to gather all those names. Members of Pennsylvania’s smaller political groups, including the Green, Constitution and Libertarian parties, face the same hurdle.

The Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition wants to change the state's closed-door policy when it comes to allowing choice in the voting booth. Pennsylvania has the most burdensome laws for independent and minor party candidates who want to appear on the ballot — much more difficult than in most other states, the Coalition argues. The result is less competition, less political dialogue, and fewer choices to vote for in November, the Coalition says.

Regardless of what you think of Diamond, who ran previously for Congress and the state legislature as a Libertarian, there's a basic concept of fairness that should be at play in our political system.

It's tough enough for minor party candidates or independents to get their message across when our political system today is run by corporate donations and partisan political action committees.

The current system flies in the face of the concept that our Founding Fathers fought for more than 200 years ago. It discourages voting by shutting out all voices except those narrowly defined by the Democratic and Republican parties.

It's too late for Russ Diamond. He has three months to collect 67,000 signatures, although Diamond himself has said he needs at least 100,000 signatures to withstand legal challenges from the Rendell and Swann camps, neither of which wants Diamond in the race (despite their public pronouncements to the contrary).

The Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition has drafted a Voters' Choice Act and is seeking sponsorship of it in the General Assembly. Incumbent politicians are not exactly falling over each other to do so.

Add ballot access to the long list of unfinished work in Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania law needs to be changed by the legislature to lower the outrageous signature requirements that prevent real choice for state voters. Short of that, voters must change the legislators if they want to restore democracy to Pennsylvania.

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