He decided to take his case to court. And, after six years, he feels vindicated.
A judge recently approved a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed by the Green and other minor parties that challenged Pennsylvania’s process to get on the general election ballot. There’s now a 5,000 cap on the number of signatures third-party candidates need and candidates no longer must pay hefty legal fees if they lose a challenge to their nominating petitions.
“It’s much better. It’s very fair. It’s achievable,” Romanelli, 58, said Monday.
Romanelli was hit with more than $80,000 in legal fees after his candidacy was successfully challenged by the Democratic Party when he tried to run in 2006 against then-Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican, and the eventually winner, Bob Casey, the current incumbent Democrat.
He never ended up paying because, he said, no one immediately came to collect and he started fighting back.
The maximum number of signatures Democrats or Republicans need to get on the primary election ballot is 2,000.
But, prior to the recent ruling, third-party candidates were being required to get nearly 30 times that number at times. They had to get a signature total that surpassed two percent of the highest vote getter in the previous statewide election.
So Romanelli’s threshold was 67,070 signatures.
Romanelli felt he successfully completed the Herculean task, submitting a petition with more than 100,000 signatures. But challenges to his petition were successful and he wasn’t part of the election. Romanelli said he felt he was wrongly booted from the ballot but feels he was treated worse afterward when he got hit with the intimidating legal bill. It was a bullying tactic that discriminated against the minor parties, he said.
“I was concerned about my liberty. I knew I didn’t do any wrong, but I had no resources for them to attack. My concern was a contempt of court charge for not paying, which is punishable by prison. So, to say I was concerned and scared is not just hyperbole,” Romanelli said.
Romanelli was chairman of the state Green Party when the lawsuit was filed six years ago.
The case has been full of ups and downs, as it was originally dismissed by a judge who decided third parties lacked standing to bring the action. That decision was appealed and in 2015 the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal. This case was again in front of the Third Circuit in 2017 and again the third-party plaintiffs won, resulting in the recent order.
“It is exciting to see this historic victory for ballot access in Pennsylvania. It is not easy to prevail in a court case like this, so the magnitude of this correction should not be overlooked,” Romanelli said.
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