Pennsylvania Supreme Court Strikes Green Party Presidential Ticket From Ballot

Residents wait in line outside the Wilkinsburg Municipal Building to cast their vote during primary voting, in Pittsburgh, Pa., June 2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(CN) — Giving Democrats a win in the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Green Party presidential candidate will not be listed on the Commonwealth’s ballots in November.

The ruling could lead left-leaning, otherwise Green Party voters, to throw their votes to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in his race against President Donald Trump, and those votes could be enough to make a critical difference. 

During the 2016 election, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein received around 50,000 votes in the state — a little more than the roughly 44,000 votes Trump held over his opponent Hillary Clinton. The 2016 race between Trump and Clinton was tight. Ultimately, Trump won the state against Clinton by less than a percentage point.

Democrats have problems with the Green Party’s paperwork to thank for the party’s presidential candidate being booted off the ballot, as well as a last-minute nomination change.

“[T]he procedures for nominating a candidate for office by nomination papers were not strictly followed,” the state Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 vote. 

Pittsburgh attorney Clifford Levine, who did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday, filed the legal challenge last month. He represented two Democrats: Paul Stefano, chair of the Lawrence County Democratic Party, and Tony Thomas, a 2019 Wilkes-Barre City Council candidate. The case delayed Pennsylvania counties from beginning to print and mail ballots for the November election. 

The suit centered around actions taken in August when the Green Party filed nominating petitions for Elizabeth Faye Scroggin for president and Neal Taylor Gale for vice president and then promptly switched gears, attempting to replace the candidates with retired New York teamster Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker, a South Carolina labor activist.

The challenge noted that the Green Party failed to file a candidate affidavit to replace Gale, the original vice presidential nominee, in line with Pennsylvania law.

Additionally, while Scrogin faxed her affidavit to the Pennsylvania Department of State, her nomination paperwork was lacking because the state requires an original affidavit copy, not a facsimile, to be submitted. 

The Supreme Court agreed Thursday, noting that because of this error, she “could not be considered the Green Party’s duly nominated candidate for President.” This opinion reversed a split-ruling by Commonwealth Court Judge J. Andrew Crompton filed last week, which allowed Hawkins to stay on the ballot but removed his vice presidential running mate.

“Scroggin failed to comply with the Election Code’s strict mandate that she append an original affidavit to her nomination paper, and the party’s use of Hawkins’ affidavit while presenting a nomination paper in which he was not ‘named therein’ did not suffice to cure that error,” the state supreme court wrote in its 28-page ruling. “That defect was fatal to Scroggin’s nomination and, therefore, to Hawkins’ substitution.”

In a statement Thursday, Alan Smith, co-chair of Green Party Pennsylvania, expressed his dismay with the final verdict.

“All the hard work we did, being forced to petition during a pandemic, risking our lives and the lives of others, over 30 volunteers painstakingly reviewing our petitions line by line, thousands of dollars spent in lawyers fees, and the courts still manage to kick two of our candidates off the ballot — one of them a queer, working-class, Black woman,” Smith said in reference to Walker. “The extensive bureaucratic processes to run for office or even get on the ballot are designed to keep everyday people disempowered and discouraged.”

He continued, saying that a truly representative democracy must eliminate these voter suppression techniques. 

“As it stands now there is no integrity to our elections,” Smith said. “They are fraudulent.” 

In another ruling Thursday that could also prove advantageous to Biden’s campaign, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended the deadline for mail-in ballots. 

According to the 63-page opinion, penned by Justice Max Baer, ballots postmarked Nov. 3 will be counted as long as they are received by 5 p.m. the Friday following the election. Ballots missing postmarks or with illegible postmarks will also be counted, the court said, as long as there is no indication they were sent after Election Day.

The move, which could allow for tens of thousands of extra votes to be counted in Pennsylvania, is expected to upset Republicans, who have argued that all votes should be received by Election Day. The ruling also said state election law permits counties to use mail-in ballot drop boxes and denied a request from President Donald Trump’s campaign that would allow poll watchers to watch polls in counties where they are not registered to vote, a tactic the campaign argued would help prevent voter fraud.

“While Respondent asserts the greater need for poll watchers because of heightened election fraud involving mail-in voting, these claims are unsubstantiated,” the court wrote.

Democratic Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro expressed his satisfaction with the ruling Thursday.

“With 47 days left to vote, today’s ruling by the PA Supreme Court gives the people of Pennsylvania exactly what they have been searching for — confidence in our voting process,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a tweet. “Confidence that if they place their ballot in a drop box, it will be counted.”

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