With so many candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for both Governor and Lieutenant Governor, it is more likely than usual that we’ll be seeing some challenges to nominating petitions after the March 11 filing deadline.
To get on the ballot for governor, candidates need at least 2,000 signatures including at least 100 from 10 counties. For lieutenant governor, candidates need at least 1,000 signatures including at least 100 from 5 counties.
Because the cost of a good election law attorney is so high, the decision to challenge an opponent must be made prudently. The most likely factor in making that decision is not the gross total of signatures submitted, but rather the requirement that 100 signatures be from 10 counties (or 5 for lieutenant governor).
As a result, candidates with tons of signatures from their home base but borderline signatures from further-out counties are most likely to be attacked in court.
Here’s a hypothetical to flesh things out:
Let’s say a candidate from the Philadelphia area gets 5,000 signatures, but 4,000 of them come from Philadelphia, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties. The remaining 1,000 signatures come from 7 counties across the rest of the state. If it appears that there are enough counties coming in with signatures just above the 100 signatures threshold, a decision to challenge likely will be made. This is because in most petition-related litigation, somewhere hovering around less-than-50-percent of signatures are successfully struck.
So, when we finally do start getting numbers from campaigns, the headline numbers don’t really matter in terms of prospective petition challenges. It’s the county-level thresholds that will determine whether we get to see courtroom fireworks. If a candidate can get another candidate below the 10 or 5 county threshold, that’s all they need to do to get their opponent off the ballot.
It is worth mentioning that the decision to mount a petition challenge ultimately may rest on political factors rather than legal judgment. For example, political geography is a relevant factor.
Every candidate in the gubernatorial race has an incentive to try and knock Jack Wagner off of the ballot because he is the only candidate from the west. On the flip side, candidates from Central and Western PA are less likely to challenge candidates from the East because there are so many from the Philly region that they will dilute each others vote.
Likewise, in the lieutenant gubernatorial race, Western and Eastern candidates are unlikely to challenge Brenda Alton’s petitions because they would want to strategically dilute Brad Koplinski’s Harrisburg vote.
(For a handy guide on how to challenge and defend against a challenge to nomination petitions, check out my article here.)