Articles Posted in Election Law

by
Due to the impending special election on March 21, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court resolved this matter by per curiam Order on March 3, 2017, leaving in place the Pennsylvania Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation’s (Bureau) determination that Appellant Cheri Honkala was ineligible to appear on the ballot as a candidate in the special election. The Court concluded appellant Honkala and the Green Party of Pennsylvania failed to comply with Section 629 of the Election Code, which required the nomination certificate to be filed by January 30, 2017. The Commonwealth Court determined that: the nomination certificate was presented to the State one day past the filing deadline; individual notice was provided by e-mail almost two weeks prior to the filing deadline; public notice was timely available on the Bureau’s website; and the requirements were readily accessible through the election law. The Commonwealth Court refused to grant relief on Appellants’ claim that a Bureau employee provided appellants with misinformation. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court, and denied mandamus relief. View "Green Party of Pennsylvania v. Dept of State" on Justia Law

by
Candidate Joseph Vodvarka appealed a Commonwealth Court deicision which set aside his nomination petition as Democratic Party candidate for the U.S. Senate in a primary election held in April 2016. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court's decision and ordered Vodvarka be placed on the ballot. At issue was a challenge to the register of voters, or the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors or "SURE." The Supreme Court held that the signature of a registered voter whose name appeared in the SURE registry could not be stricken from a nominating petition solely because the address listed on the nominating petition was different from the address at which the signer was currently registered to vote. View "In Re: Nom. of Joseph Vodvarka" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law

by
Appellant Collette Brown, a resident of Concord Township, Delaware County, appealed the Commonwealth Court's order affirming the trial court's dismissal of her petition to place on the November 2014 ballot, a referendum question seeking to change the Township's governmental status from second-class to first-class. Appellant's petition contained 994 signatures (8.5%) out of the Township’s 11,640 registered voters and claimed that as of the 2010 census, the Township had a population density of around 1,258 inhabitants per square mile (“IPSM”). As stated, both figures easily exceeded the statutory thresholds of 300 IPSM and 5% registered voter signatures, which Appellant believed operated as conjunctive preconditions. Seven named qualified electors (“Appellees”) filed objections and claimed the petition was substantively and procedurally defective under Pennsylvania law, which they argued was time-limited to the first municipal or general election occurring at least ninety days after the 2010 census. That same day, the Delaware County Bureau of Elections intervened and requested declaratory relief, claiming that in addition to not satisfying the statutory requirements, the petition should have been dismissed because a home rule study referendum question was already on the ballot (which voters later approved), and that if Appellant’s referendum question were successful, the subsequent change in Township government could violate the Pennsylvania Constitution. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that pursuant to 53 P.S. section 55207, second- to first-class township referendum questions shall be submitted to voters at the first general or municipal election occurring at least ninety days after fulfilling both the population density ascertainment and petition signature filing requirements as set forth in the statute. Accordingly, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In re: Ballot Quest to Concord Twp" on Justia Law

by
In response to time demands of this primary election appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court entered a per curiam order on an expedited basis vacating the order of the Commonwealth Court and directing that Appellee Michael W. Beyer’s name be stricken from the primary ballot for the Democratic Party nomination for the Office of Representative in the General Assembly for the 131st Legislative District. In the per curiam order, the Court stated that an opinion would follow; this was that opinion. Beyer filed nomination petitions with the Department of State seeking placement of his name on the ballot for Democratic Nomination for the Office of Representative in the General Assembly. Appellant Objectors, qualified electors residing in the 131st Legislative District, petitioned to set aside the nomination petition on grounds that Beyer intentionally misrepresented his occupation as “lawyer” on both his Statement of Financial Interests (SOFI) and nomination petitions. At a hearing, .Beyer confirmed he had graduated law school, but had yet to pass or even take any state’s bar examination. Consequently, he was not licensed to practice law at the time he circulated his nomination petitions. He listed his occupation as “lawyer,” he said, because he understood the definition of “lawyer” as found in the Oxford English Dictionary to include someone who studied the law. He therefore thought it fair comment to describe his profession or occupation as “lawyer” on his nomination petition. Though she found that he likely used the title of “lawyer” to “enhance his stature with the electorate,” the trial judge accepted Beyer's explanation that he believed his having studied law and graduated law school in the past, alone, entitled him to claim the occupation. Appellant Objectors contended the Commonwealth Court erred in failing to find that Beyer’s self-designation as a lawyer-by-occupation represented a material defect borne of the intent to mislead the electorate. The Supreme Court agreed: the defect was both material to an elector’s decision to nominate a legislator and incurable by amendment because the candidate knew his representation had the potential to mislead signers about his credentials for the legislative office he sought. Having demonstrated as much, Objectors met their burden of disproving the presumptive validity of the contested nomination petition. Striking Mr. Beyer’s petition under such circumstances to avoid misleading the electorate was consistent with the Election Code’s purpose of protecting, and not defeating, a citizen’s vote. View "In Re: Nom. of Michael W. Beyer" on Justia Law

by
Appellants, twenty-four Pennsylvania voters, filed this action in 2006 in the Commonwealth Court's original jurisdiction to challenge the certification of six direct-recording electronic voting systems (DREs) models in use in Pennsylvania. Seeking declaratory, mandamus, and injunctive relief, Appellants claimed the Secretary of the Commonwealth should have been ordered to decertify the DREs which did not comply with the Election Code and compelled to adopt more rigorous testing standards. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred in upholding the decision of the Secretary to certify certain DREs for use in Pennsylvania elections. The Commonwealth Court found that the DREs satisfied the certification requirements set forth in the Election Code and did not infringe on the fundamental right to vote as protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Supreme Court concluded that the Commonwealth Court did not err in granting the Secretary's petition for summary relief. In particular, the Court found the Secretary exercised proper discretion in determining that the certified DREs satisfied the requirements for electronic voting systems set forth in the Election Code and the use of the DREs did not violate Appellants' fundamental right to vote as embodied within Article I, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution or the uniformity requirement in Article VII, Section 6 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. View "Banfield v. Sec'y of Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether a law firm’s post-election forgiveness of a political campaign committee’s unpaid legal fees, which were incurred due to the firm’s representation of a candidate in a ballot challenge, is subject to the contribution limitations established in the Philadelphia Campaign Finance Law (as applicable in 2007). The Commonwealth Court held that the post-election forgiveness of debt would constitute a “contribution” to the candidate’s political campaign under Section 1001(6) of the Code, and, thus, was subject to the $10,000 per year contribution limitation set forth in Section 1001(2). After its review, the Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the law firm’s forgiveness of debt would not constitute a contribution to the candidate’s political campaign as the debt at issue was not incurred “for use in . . . influencing the election of the candidate.” View "O'Connor v. City of Phila." on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law

by
Given time constraints associated with an impending primary election contest, this election appeal was previously resolved in per curiam Order of the Supreme Court. With the exigency abated, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took an opportunity to supplement its brief explanation provided in the earlier Order. The Court determined that Pennsylvania courts are not empowered to employ principles of equity to override the express statutory command that the failure of a candidate for statewide public office to file a timely statement of financial interests with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission "shall . . . be a fatal defect to a petition to appear on the ballot." On March 10, 2014, Robert Guzzardi filed a timely nomination petition with the Department of State, seeking placement of his name on the ballot for the Republican nomination for the Office of Governor. Although an original statement of financial interests was appended to his petition, Mr. Guzzardi failed to make the mandatory tender to the Ethics Commission prior to the statutory deadline. Appellants, qualified electors and registered voters, filed a petition to set the nomination petition aside in the Commonwealth Court. Among other challenges, they invoked the statutory fatal-defect rule which, by its plain terms, required Mr. Guzzardi’s name to be removed from the primary election ballot, in light of his undisputed failure to file a timely statement of financial interests with the Ethics Commission. The Commonwealth Court, however, refused to enforce the governing legislative directive. Rather, the single judge administering the matter conducted a hearing and issued an order denying Appellants’ objections. In an unpublished opinion, she relied on a line of Commonwealth Court decisions which have found the judiciary to be possessed with the power to permit a fatal defect to be "cured" through the application of equitable principles: it was the court’s position that Mr. Guzzardi had offered sufficient, non-negligent explanations to justify treating his late-filed statement nunc pro tunc, or as if it had been submitted to the Ethics Commission on time. "[T]here is no dispute here that the statutory fatal-defect rule applied squarely in Mr. Guzzardi’s circumstances, on account of his failure to timely file a statement of financial interests with the Commission. Moreover, Appellants lodged timely objections to his nomination petition, bringing the matter squarely before the Commonwealth Court. In the circumstances, the Commonwealth Court erred in refusing to enforce the governing statutory command." View "In Re: Nomination of Guzzardi" on Justia Law

by
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on whether county commissioners could place an ordinance-generated referendum question on the primary election ballot seeking to amend a home rule charter without first seeking election of a commissioned study when the question adopted by the ordinance attempted to abolish certain row offices. In 2013, the Lackawanna County Board of Commissioners sought to direct that a referendum question be placed on the May 21, 2013, municipal primary election ballot proposing to abolish the elected offices of Sheriff, Clerk of Judicial Records, Recorder of Deeds and Register of Wills, and to redefine the duties that had been assigned to those positions as legislative powers under its Charter. Appellant Joseph Pilchesky filed a pro se petition requesting that the trial court strike the ballot question or, in the alternative, that the Board of Elections separate the single ballot question into four queries, one for each of the offices to be abolished. In his petition, Pilchesky also asserted that Ordinance 224 directed a ballot question that proposed a change in the form of government rather than an amendment to the Charter and that such a change can be effected only by petition or ordinance seeking election of a government study commission under 53 Pa.C.S. 2911. The trial court denied the challenge seeking to bar Ordinance 224 from appearing on the primary ballot, and rejeted Pilchesky's argument that the changes to the existing form of government proffered by Ordinance 224 could be accomplished by the statutorily mandated government study commission. In an unpublished memorandum opinion, the Commonwealth Court unanimously affirmed. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that in light of the plain language of the Home Rule Law and the considerations Pilchesky raised, the amendment proposed by the Commissioners constituted a change in the form of government that could have been accomplished only by following the procedure outlined in Subchapter B of the Home Rule Law. The decision of the Commonwealth Court was Reversed. View "Pilchesky v. Lackawanna County" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners claimed that Article V, Section 16(b) of the state charter was unconstitutional. They argued that section 16(b) deprived them of their inherent right to be free of age-based discrimination, particularly because the section mandates that jurists retire the year they turn 70 years old. In prior decisions, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that Article V, Section 16(b) was not so irrational as to be considered unconstitutional. The Court denied petitioners' application for relief and dismissed the case with prejudice. View "Friedman v. Corbett" on Justia Law

by
This case was a direct appeal from a Commonwealth Court order which set aside the nomination petition of Andrew Gales as a Democratic Candidate for Pennsylvania State Representative in the 57th Legislative District. On April 4, 2012, the Supreme Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court, directed that the candidate’s name be printed on the April 24, 2012 primary election ballot, and indicated that an opinion would follow. The Court released its rationale for that order, and held that the Election Code does not prohibit an elector from signing a nomination petition using an obvious diminutive form of his or her first name, rather than the formal first name that appears on the elector’s voter registration card. View "In re Nomination Petition of Andrew Gales" on Justia Law