Ten Days in March – A New Shortened Petition Period Is Unfair to New Candidates

With a shortened window to gain needed signatures before the May 17 primary, new candidates are scrambling.
patrick m brown
Bucks County, meet your new Senator, Patrick M Brown, R, District 16

The shortened schedule for getting petitions signed so candidates qualify for the May primary is putting new names in Bucks County at a disadvantage. It’s one thing if you are an incumbent, like Steve Santarsiero. He has an organization. He has name recognition. He has ready volunteers.

Because the final decision about redistricting came so late (March 16), and the Commonwealth refused to change the primary date, May 17, the Wolf administration ruled that there would be only 10 days in which candidates could get their petitions signed, leaving enough time for the machinery of vetting, printing, mailing and so on before the primary. It used to be 19.

“Make no mistake about it…these late maps made it much harder for all candidates,” says Elen Snyder, a Newtown supervisor. 

A candidate to be a Senator for the new District 16, which now includes a few northern parts of Bucks County, would first have to convince voters that they belong in District 16. That job belongs to a new Democratic Senate hopeful, Mark Pinsley of Whitehall, who lives in Lehigh County. He will be running against the incumbent, Republican Patrick M. Browne.

Mark Pinsley - Bucks County Beacon - Ten Days in March – A New Shortened Petition Period Is Unfair to New Candidates
Mark Pinsley

Similarly, the new candidates trying to get their petitions signed may have to first help voters in their party locate new boundaries. Or even explain that their old district (Senate District 24) no longer includes Bucks County.

Before the 10-day petition period was settled on, when Pennsylvania was thinking of shortening petition signing to just fourteen days, a Democratic state house candidate from Pittsburgh complained to Steve Ulrich of Politics/PA that “it is impractical for campaigns, elections staff, and most importantly, community members, to be pushed into a two-week petitioning period.”

And now the volunteers for Bucks County hopefuls are out there with their clipboards struggling with the 10-day window. The goals are to get three-times the number of signatures required: 300 for a member of the House; 500 for a state senator. And, best of all, an endorsement from the county political party.

After March 28, the opposing party will settle down with sharpened elbows and begin eliminating signatures that violate the rules: either not registered voters, voters who signed before or after the deadlines, or voters who do not live within the new boundaries. Challenges will also be issued against candidates for not living within the district, not residing in the district long enough, lying on the forms and any such complaint the opposing party can muster.

After all that, papers are filed electronically and candidates’ names are entered on the primary ballots.

So if there is a knock on the door around supper time, just consider the hurdles that have been jumped to get to this point. And, hope that no election officials will quit before primary day, and that things will go smoothly this year.

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Linda Lee

A former editor and reporter at The New York Times, Linda Lee has written seven books, and started a magazine about real estate and design in Miami. While her interest lies in Bucks County, her family lives near Harrisburg. She has a Shih Tzu named Yolo.