What Is Petitioning?

What is Petitioning?

A frequently asked question is: what exactly does all this stuff about "petitioning" and "ballot access" mean? We'll briefly describe what these terms mean and why we need your help!

Every state in the United States has a set of laws that govern how elections work, including how candidates register with the state to appear as a choice on the ballot on election day. The laws for getting listed as an official candidate on the ballot are referred to as "Ballot Access" laws. These laws work very different between state to state, so requirements for ballot access in Pennsylvania don't necessary apply to any other state.

Most states including Pennsylvania do have similar rules in the sense that they usually require two things: one, candidates must submit a petition to appear on the ballot which is signed by a certain number of voters, and, two, candidates must submit a filing fee with their ballot access paperwork.

Petition Requirements

Pennsylvania requires that every candidate file their own paperwork to appear on the ballot, and each office has a different requirement of number of people that need to sign the petition before it is accepted. Local offices usually require significantly less signatures, while statewide offices require much more. The people signing the petition must also live in the district of the candidate they are signing for; for statewide candidates like governor, then any voter anywhere in PA can sign the petition. While it matters for the primary, the party affiliation does not matter for us; any registered voter with any party affiliation (or independent!) can sign our petitions to put Green Party candidates on the ballot!

In 2022, our slate of candidates need the following number of signatures minimum:

Jay Ting Walker and Zarah Livingston for state representative -- 300 signatures each, from their respective districts
Michael Bagdes-Canning for Lieutenant Governor -- 2500 signatures, statewide
Christina "PK" DiGiulio for Governor -- 5000 signatures, statewide
Richard L. Weiss for US Senate -- 5000 signatures, statewide

One advantage of running on a party ticket is that the signatures on one petition can count for all the candidates if the voting districts where they run overlap. So for example, a valid signature collected for Zarah or Jay would also count toward getting Michael, PK, and Richard onto the ballot!

Ideally though, we want our entire slate on the ballot, which means we must aim for around 5000 signatures total (assuming that some of those 5000 will also count for Jay and Zarah to be on the ballot).

These petitions can be legally challenged after filed, and most years, the Democratic Party challenges our petitions. In 2020, a Democratic Party challenge resulted in the presidential ticket being removed from the ballot after a partisan court ruling which the Columbia Undergraduate Law Review described as "voter suppression" that "set a dangerous, anti-democratic precedent". This was ultimately an odd scenario due to the pandemic, so we can avoid the issue in the future by ensuring all paperwork is filed in person.

Because of challenges, the rule of thumb is to collect at least 50% more signatures than you need, in case some of them are illegible (if you can't read it, you can't verify it!) or otherwise thrown out. So to be on the safe side, we target more than 5000 -- we instead target 8000 signatures to make sure we have enough to survive any legal challenges.

If you pledge to sign a petition, or volunteer to help collect petition signatures from others, please sign up on our Volunteer form!

State law does not allow us to begin petitioning until after the primary (for Democrats and Republicans) petitioning period is over, so we usually don't start until around March each year. By law, we have until August 1st to collect signatures and file to be on the ballot, so we can generally collect until the end of July to leave a few days to count petitions and file them.

Lastly, filing the forms requires a small fee per candidate. Statewide candidates have a $250 filing fee, while state representatives have a $100 filing fee. This cost adds up when running more candidates and is an expense we must budget for, so we appreciate any donations to help cover that cost! In addition to filing fees, there is of course other indirect costs like getting petitions printing, buying clipboards and pens, etc.

As one last extra complication, just because Democrats don't want us on the ballot and try everything they can to make it more complex, our petitions have to be printed on legal-size paper (8.5x14") instead of the typical letter size (8.5x11") paper that home printers can use (and that Democrats and Republicans get to use when doing primary petitioning). So we usually have to send the correct size form to folks since they can't usually print it at home, which costs postage, envelopes, etc.

Once we file to be on the ballot by August 1st, challenges may be made within one week. If no one challenges it, then you're automatically on the ballot! But as we said above, often the Democrats do challenge it. Then it goes to the Commonwealth Court and becomes a fight over verifying signatures that costs volunteer time and legal fees. Donations are again very appreciated!

This Seems More Complex Than It Should Be!

It shouldn't be this hard to get on the ballot in a "democracy", and in many places around the world, it isn't. Instead of 5000 signatures for a statewide or federal office, many countries require 100 or less signatures even to run for federal government offices. Many times it is as small as 25 or even 10. The extremely high signature requirements in the US impact not only Greens, but also even primary challengers because Democrats and Republicans are also required to gather signatures in Pennsylvania. We'd have a much more fair, equitable election process if our ballot access process was simpler and more equitable.

This is why Greens demand free and fair elections, and a number of reforms including reduced, equitable ballot access requirements; ranked choice voting with proportional representation and multi-member districts, which would result in more representative, multi-party legislative bodies and nearly entirely eliminate gerrymandering; and to get money out of politics with a Gift Ban and publicly-funded elections. We hope you'll join us in reaching out to legislators about making these important changes, but ultimately it will depend on building a grassroots movement for change to make it happen! Join us in the Green Party to do exactly that!