A Philadelphia judge today backed the right of three candidates to appear on the Democratic primary ballot in the Eighth Council District.
Judge Chris Wogan dismissed challenges to the nominating petitions of Andrew Lofton, William Durham and Robin Tasco. He said the challenges had been filed too late, after the Board of Elections’ 5 p.m., March 15 deadline.
The challenges were “not timely filed and will not be considered further,” Wogan said.
He added that the twists and turns of the Eighth District election controversy show a likely need for the city to update its election code to take into account the internet.
The challenges had been filed electronically with the Court of Common Pleas later on the night of March 15, beating a midnight deadline allowed for the court by judicial order. But the accompanying notification of challenges did not get stamped by the Board of Elections until sometime March 16 because that office closed at 5 p.m. The judge ruled that the time stamp made the challenges late even though the court filings were in on time.
The ruling sent Durham, Tasco, Lofton and their lawyers spilling into the halls with wide smiles and handshakes.
Who’s in and who’s out?
The fate of a challenge to the petitions of another candidate, Jordan Dillard, will be decided soon. He did not show up for hearings Friday or today, and a judge said he would get one more chance to appear Tuesday.
For now at least, Durham, Tasco and Lofton remain with Cindy Bass, Greg Paulmier, Howard Treatment and Verna Tyner on the ballot.
Another candidate, Fay Dawson, lost a court challenge to her petitions Friday, and one person who filed petitions, Donna Gentile O’Donnell, withdrew voluntarily last week.
Different deadlines created confusion
Each of the challenged candidates provided paperwork showing that the Board of Elections hadn’t formally accepted notification of the challenges until the day after the deadline.
But Robert Vance, who represented the voters challenging the candidates, argued that what were, in effect, differing deadlines for the court and the Board of Elections created an absurd situation, created by the election board’s failure to provide for filing via the Internet. How could it be, he asked, that the deadline for notifying someone that you’d done something was seven hours earlier than the deadline for actually doing it? It was the kind of “fatal flaw,” Vance argued, that ample election case law said to avoid.
The judge agreed that the system was fouled up, but said that he saw the thrust of the case law as avoiding flaws that are “fatal” favoring candidacies, not to people’s objections to candidacies.
Lawyers for the candidates said they fully expect Vance to appeal the decision to the Commonwealth Court later this week.
Joe Corrigan, director of public relations for Cindy Bass, and Theresa Brunson, co-counsel on the cases, indicated the decision to appeal would have to come from the individual voters who filed the challenges and not the Bass campaign.
During the course of the day Dave Scholnick, head of communications for Treatman, stopped by to, “let [the challenged candidates] know that we’re here and we support their right to be on the ballot.”
Each challenged candidate called the process an unwanted distraction from the campaign.
For now, at least, Andrew Lofton summarized what today’s decision means for the Eighth District race.
“This means campaign on,” he said.