Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Cheryl Lynne Austin ruled in favor of Melanie Lees and Mike Pipe, two residents of the Souderton Area School District, who challenged the Democratic Nomination Petition of Republican school board director candidate Kimberly Wheeler on Friday.
Pennsylvania allows school board director candidates to cross-file and appear on both the Democratic and Republican ballots however, Pennsylvania election rules prohibit a candidate from circulating a petition of the opposing party; a member from the opposing party must circulate the petition on behalf of the candidate.
“Petitions were due at the Montgomery County Board of Elections on March 7,” said Souderton resident Melanie Lees. “Once we obtained copies and had an opportunity to review the petitions, I realized that Ms. Wheeler had personally circulated a Democratic petition and needed to bring that fact to the attention of the authorities,” she said.
Lees and Pipe were represented by attorney Harrison E. Fonteix of Rudolph Clarke, LLC in Trevose, Pennsylvania.
Kimberly Wheeler was represented by attorney Corey M. Miller.
Miller attempted to challenge Pennsylvania’s Election Code law that prohibits a Republican from circulating a Democratic nomination petition.
“Specifically, Mr. Miller argued that such a rule violated the First Amendment rights of his client. Fortunately, Pennsylvania appellate courts have previously stated that this provision of the Election Code is constitutional,” said Fonteix.
During the hearing, Ms. Wheeler and Mr. Miller acknowledged that she is a registered Republican who circulated a Democratic Petition.
After both sides presented arguments, Judge Austin granted the Petition to set aside Ms. Wheeler’s Democratic Nomination Petition.
Short of winning an appeal, Wheeler will only appear on the Republican ballot in the upcoming May 16 municipal primary.
“If this is how disorganized the opposing candidates are to simply get on the ballot, I’m quite concerned about their attention to details in governance and oversight,” said neighboring North Penn School Board Director Jonathan Kassa. “Every taxpayer penny matters, every student matters, and so should the most basic information when earning public trust.”