Judge’s ruling on Rand Paul could affect primary in Pa.
January 26, 2016 11:06 PM
John Locher/Associated Press
Rand Paul speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Dec. 15 in Las Vegas.
By Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — A federal judge will decide if a Texas man can gather signatures unaccompanied by a Pennsylvania registered Republican voter in the state for Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul to appear on the April primary ballot.
Trent Pool, a professional political campaign operative who lives in Texas and wants to circulate petitions in Pennsylvania for Republican presidential candidate Mr. Paul, is challenging several election requirements in Pennsylvania: the state’s rule that those collecting signatures for candidates must be registered Pennsylvania voters, the requirement that every page of nominating petitions be notarized and the prohibition on voters signing more than one nominating petition for the same office.
U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Stengel in Philadelphia ruled previously on a similar challenge filed by the Constitution, Libertarian and Green parties of Pennsylvania. He held in their favor in July, but the Pennsylvania Department of State has applied the ruling only to minor party candidates.
Mr. Pool and his attorney, Paul Rossi, want the ruling extended to Republicans and Democrats. “What we want is the same rules for everybody, and they should be. The rules and the facts are the same,” Mr. Rossi said Monday night. “The state feels the need to defend the statute no matter what, so we have to go through this kabuki dance.”
Judge Yvette Kane is expected to rule as soon as today on a temporary restraining order in the case; she heard arguments and testimony Tuesday morning in federal court in Harrisburg. The decision could have implications for presidential candidates seeking to be on the primary ballot in Pennsylvania, where Tuesday was the first day candidates could begin gathering petition signatures.
Mr. Rossi argued that the requirement that only a registered Pennsylvania voter of the same party as the candidate can gather petition signatures makes the process more time-consuming and cumbersome, as Mr. Pool must be accompanied by someone when getting voters’ signatures .
“It makes the process take much more time,” he testified. “And unfortunately, we don’t have much time.” Feb. 16 is the last day to file candidate petitions. A presidential candidate needs 2,000 valid signatures from registered voters of his or her party to get on the ballot.
Mr. Pool also testified that the notary requirement added additional expense.
Lawyers from Pennsylvania’s Attorney General’s office argued Mr. Pool and his firm, Benezet Consulting, LLC, have no standing in the case as they are not a Republican candidate for president or a Republican voter in the commonwealth. They also argued his right to free speech was not being impaired, as he is free to campaign for Mr. Paul’s presidential campaign in other ways, such as handling out leaflets, putting up signs, or generally speaking about Mr. Paul’s candidacy.
Mr. Rossi countered, “The act of circulating nominating petitions is core political speech.”
Mr. Pool’s free speech is not being impaired, the state’s attorneys argued, if he has to spend more time or money to coordinate with registered Pennsylvania voters to accompany him and pay notary fees. “I don’t think the commonwealth has an obligation to have election laws that benefit his business model,” said Kenneth Joel, chief deputy attorney general.
Pennsylvania’s primary election is April 26.
Mr. Pool said a favorable ruling would mean he will start collecting signatures right away. He said he would be working in a volunteer capacity for Mr. Paul’s campaign, at least initially.
“I would start collecting immediately in Lancaster County and get him some signatures and hope he gets on the ballot,” he said.
Tracie Mauriello contributed. Kate Giammarise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.
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