Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Paltry Scuffle Exposes A Genuine Problem

The contest for the sad seat between Mark DeSantes DeSantis and Patrick Dowd in the "I Woulda Been Mayor 'Cept I Couldn't Even Beat Luke" support group has generated remarkable intensity among supporters of Kevin Acklin and Dok Harris (hint: you'll both be welcome at meetings, guys).

The recent sparks came from an Acklin-arranged challenge of signatures on Harris' nomination petition, an episode that involved an ugly, silly little corner of Pennsylvania election law.

A candidate must file a nominating petition bearing a specified number of signatures of registered voters eligible to vote for the relevant office. That seems reasonable. The hoops through which a signature must jump to be counted are not. A ridiculous series of court decisions disenfranchises many legitimate signers.

If "Albert Einstein" signs as Al or Bert, his signature is invalid (although it can be rescued if Albert appears in court to testify or -- if the judge is in a lenient mood -- submits a notarized affidvit). If Albert registered as Albert Luke Einstein but signs as Albert L. Einstein (or vice versa), the signature is (relatively) bad.

(Do you remember precisely how you signed your original voter registration card?)

If Albert lives in Dormont but has a Pittsburgh mailing address, and writes "Pittsburgh" on the petition, his signature is susceptible to challenge. If Albert lives in Pittsburgh and writes "Pgh" on the petition (because the forms required by the County Board of Elections don't provide enough space for most people to write "Pittsburgh" comfortably), his signature may be challenged. If Albert lives in Squirrel Hill and writes "Squirrel Hill" as his address, his signature is inadequate -- he should have written "Pittsburgh." If Albert is registered at his family's home in Squirrel Hill but uses his dormitory address in Oakland, his signature is worthless. If Albert's new wife signs her married name, before changing her voting registration, her signature is worthless.

This indefensible system is tolerated because (a) few citizens are aware of it and (b) the two principal political parties like the enormous obstacle confronting anyone trying to crash their tango. To his substantial credit, Judge Joseph James of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas is customarily sensible when applying the rules, relying on common sense rather than a hypertechnical reading of silly standards. That, however, does not stop some candidates and lawyers -- often aiming solely to deplete an opponent's resources -- from filing detailed challenges.

Against this background, I am unimpressed by huffing about how 'almost half of Harris' signatures were discarded' or preening press releases and unbecoming whining about the "sloppiness" of Harris' petition.

Harris' petition apparently was more amateurish than most, but Acklin has little room to complain. I am confident that nearly or more than half of Acklin's signatures were objectionable, too -- not because he or his circulators or his signers did anything wrong, but because Pennsylvania law subjects such signatures to an effective thicket of "gotcha" traps.

Acklin's challenge had scant chance to succeed; Harris submitted three times as many signatures as he needed, and more than a quarter of his supporters somehow stumbled their way to a pristine signature. Too many unchallenged signatures, too many challenged (some of which sure to be rehabilitated) signatures, too much mountain for Acklin to reasonably expect to overcome. For that reason, it is difficult to divine Acklin's reasoning. He and Harris were required to devote substantial time, money and effort to the litigation. The only winner? Luke Ravensthal, the guy they will both be muttering about at those therapy sessions, beginning in mid-November.

4 comments:

Bram Reichbaum said...

Fair 'nough. I was also stirred by something Maria wrote, and by the feeling I got when I almost typed the words "margin of litigation".

Agent Ska said...

Sometimes I feel the urge to send Acklin this link, but then I decide against it at the last second.

http://www.forumammo.com/cpg/albums/userpics/10063/STFU-Whiteboy.jpg

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should have taken a look at the challenge that was actually filed, not the one that you have made up in your head.

"If Albert registered as Albert Luke Einstein but signs as Albert L. Einstein (or vice versa), the signature is (relatively) bad." = LIE. Middle initials weren't challenged.

"If Albert lives in Pittsburgh and writes "Pgh" on the petition (because the forms required by the County Board of Elections don't provide enough space for most people to write "Pittsburgh" comfortably), his signature may be challenged." = LIE. Abbreviations and city left blank weren't challenged.

"If Albert lives in Squirrel Hill and writes "Squirrel Hill" as his address, his signature is inadequate -- he should have written "Pittsburgh."" = LIE. This wasn't challenged either.

"If Albert lives in Dormont but has a Pittsburgh mailing address, and writes "Pittsburgh" on the petition, his signature is susceptible to challenge." = True. Dormont is not the City of Pittsburgh, but you (and the Harris campaign), seemed to be a little confused about that.

Infinonymous said...

>If Albert lives in Dormont, is registered in Dormont, but writes his mailing address (Pittsburgh), his signature is defective. I was offering this example in the context of a Dormont (or county-wide, or Congressional, or state-wide) candidacy. I should have been clearer.

>If Acklin didn't challenge the amendable/rehabilitatable signatures, but instead focused on signatures with genuine problems, why/how did his challenge fail?

>Most important, the principal point of my analysis was to illustrate the broader problem, which struck me as more interesting and more important than this particular challenge. I just can't get that excited by a minor tactical dust-up between two guys fighting to become the first name below Luke Ravenstahl's in an election summary.