‘Underdog’ Democrat Can Run for Pa. Senate

     (CN) — A pro-fair trade Pennsylvania manufacturer must be allowed to run for the Democratic Party’s Senate candidacy, despite voter address discrepancies, the Pennsylvania Middle District Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
     Joseph Vodvarka, who bills himself on his website as “the Democrat Underdog the media doesn’t want you to hear about!” is a small business owner and manufacturer of springs and wire forms from Clinton, Pa. According to his website, he has never served in public office, but he hopes to change that soon. He filed a petition for nomination as the Democratic Party’s candidate for the United States Senate on Feb. 16.
     Though the petition had 2,744 signatures, fellow candidate and former Navy admiral Joseph Sestak petitioned to set it aside days later, claiming that fewer than the required 2,000 signatures were valid.
     The parties later struck certain signatures by agreement until only 2,186 remained.
     They then stipulated that 461 signatures’ addresses on the petition did not match those of record in Pennsylvania’s Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE).
     Sestak told the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court that those signatures must be stricken.
     A divided court agreed, and Vodvarka appealed.
     A week before the primary election, Pennsylvania’s Middle District Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered that Vodvarka be placed on the ballot.
     “Reviewing the relevant statutes, no provision either in the Election Code or in Act 2002-3 mandates that the address provided on a nominating petition must match the address in the SURE system,” Judge Christine Donohue wrote for the six-judge panel.
     The Election Code requires only that signers add their “residence, giving city, borough or township,” not the address at which they resided during voter registration, the ruling states.
     “Similarly, Act 2002-3 affirmatively provides that a registered elector’s change of address, even if not promptly reported to election officials, does not affect his or her registration status or entitlement to vote in the next election,” Donohue wrote.
     The statutes “should be read, to the extent possible, to include rather than exclude citizens in the electoral process, including the process of selecting potential candidates for office through the signing of nominating petitions,” Donohue added (emphasis in original).
     The judge noted that the parties agreed that all 461 signers at issue were qualified electors and registered Democrats of the county designated on the petition.
     “If we were deciding this case on a clean slate, we would promptly reverse the decision of the Commonwealth Court,” Donohue wrote.
     But “the matching address requirement perseveres as a result of this court’s 2001 opinion in In re Nomination Petition of Flaherty,” the judge added.
     In that ruling, the court held that “absent extraordinary circumstances,” a signature must be stricken if its address does not match that in the voter registry, unless a removal notice was filed.
     The ruling “erroneously confused electors who were qualified to vote with electors who were registered to vote,” Donohue wrote (emphasis in original).
     Indeed, the court “failed to identify the changes to Pennsylvania’s voter registration laws occasioned by enactment of the 1995 [Pennsylvania Voter Registration Act],” Donohue wrote.
     Under that law, “the failure to file a removal notice could no longer result in swift termination of a voter’s registration,” the judge added.
     “Flaherty must be overturned to the extent that it imposes a matching address requirement in connection with signatures on a nominating petition,” Donohue wrote.
     Vodvarka, whose website says he advocates for fair trade and is running for Senate “because America needs a Senator that vividly understands what manufacturers in this country are going through,” did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

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