In what was fairly predictable for both legal parties in the case, Former Representative Babette Joseph’s name has been stricken from the ballot for the May 2014 elections. Due to an insufficient number of valid signatures supporting her candidacy, the Commonwealth Court had no choice but to remove her name from the ballot.
This particular petition challenge case has gained notoriety with readers due to the alleged forgery of political blogger Duncan Black’s signature by Josephs campaign representatives. At today’s hearing, things were brief and a little less exciting, as this was not the challenge that the court addressed first (or at all). While the alleged forgery of Duncan Black (or Atrios’) signature brought public attention to this matter, what is critical to remember are the other registered voters whose names appeared on a petition without their knowledge or consent. One of those individuals sat in the court room with me in silent contempt. He was victimized for the sake of the political process, and his name was allegedly forged as a circulator, an even greater disservice.
When candidates’ signatures were first submitted in early March, Former Representative Josephs had 599 signatures, one short of twice the amount required under Pennsylvania election law. Representative Sims’ attorney, Adam Bonin, filed a challenge on March 18th to her candidacy, after he found numerous irregularities across a variety of legal statutes. You can read more about that HERE.
Upon entering the courtroom this morning, both parties in the case had come to a mutual agreement on 132 signatures that were without any possible defense, bringing the total number of admissible Josephs campaign signatures to 467.
Global challenges were submitted to the court about two circulators’ qualifications. This means that if a global challenge to a circulator is upheld, all pages submitted by that circulator would be deemed by the court as invalid, automatically. Challenges were also made to Former Representative Josephs’ statement of financial interest. Again, for a refresher on these details, go HERE.
To expedite the process, the judge started with a global challenge that, if she agreed, would remove enough signatures to end the process and remove Former Representative Josephs from the ballot. If she did not agree with the legal argument, the court would then move on to other challenges until all had been addressed or enough signatures had been stricken to universally remove Josephs from the ballot.
Brian Falkner, a circulator of Josephs’ petition, collected 171 of the total 599 signatures on her behalf, but unfortunately, he is not currently registered to vote at the address he listed on all of his pages. According to Pennsylvania election law, this invalidates their circulator affidavit, and therefore, the signatures attributed to them.
The Josephs legal team alleged to the court that Brian Falkner was homeless, citing that the address he listed on his affidavits was the location of a facility where men in between consistent housing could stay. Frank Martinez, a clerk for the City Commissioner’s office who is a SURE system operator, pulled up Falkner’s voter registration for the court, and also showed that he had not been registered at the previous address since July 2013.
Josephs’ lawyer brought up that Falkner last voted at the old address, the facility for those between housing, in 2012, but the judge ruled that it was irrelevant to the case at hand. She asked if Falkner was present today to provide any testimony or evidence on his own behalf, and both legal parties admitted that they had not been able to track him down. The judge then held a brief recess so legal counsel could check into any case law about the rights of the (allegedly) homeless to circulate petitions, and whether or not a conflicting voter registration record would still be held as a conflict to one’s right to circulate.
After a ten minute recess, the judge ruled that given the lack of evidence that Falkner is even currently homeless, and given the discrepancy between his current voter registration address and the one he listed just weeks before, all of the signatures he collected were invalid.
With 171 signatures stricken, Former Representative Josephs’ overall signature total was brought from 467 to 296, four signatures less than the mandated amount to be included on the primary ballot. It was deemed unnecessary for the court to hear any further arguments at that point, since no matter what, she did not have the sufficient support needed under Pennsylvania election law.
Representative Sims had this to say about the matter:
“I’m definitely pleased with the court’s decision today and I’m looking forward to continuing to serve the 182nd District and to supporting strong Democrats across the region.”