HARRISBURG — The Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania’s nominees for U.S. Senate and governor filed voter signatures Friday to get on November’s election ballot, helped by a federal court order in 2016 that substantially lowered signature requirements for minor-party candidates.
The party’s U.S. Senate nominee Dale Kerns and gubernatorial nominee Ken Krawchuk each said their campaigns filed more than twice the legal threshold of 5,000 signatures. Pennsylvania’s Department of State, which oversees elections in the state, confirmed the filings ahead of the deadline next Wednesday.
Kerns would join two-term Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and Republican challenger Lou Barletta on the Nov. 6 ballot, while Krawchuk would join Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican challenger Scott Wagner.
Kerns, 34, is an electrical construction project manager from Delaware County making his first bid for statewide office. Krawchuk, 65, is a computer architecture consultant from Montgomery County and longtime Libertarian Party standard-bearer making his third bid for governor.
The highest third-party vote-getter in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate or gubernatorial races the last two decades was Constitutional Party candidate Peg Luksik in 1998 with 10 percent.
No other candidate has broken 4 percent, and Krawchuk in 2002 was the last minor party candidate to appear on a gubernatorial ballot. He also ran in 1998.
Before the 2016 federal court decision, ballot-access advocates regarded Pennsylvania as having the nation’s toughest barriers to third-party candidates. In 2014, Pennsylvania law had set the minor-party signature requirement at 21,774 before U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel ordered it lowered to 5,000 in 2016.
A separate federal court decision in 2015 prevented Pennsylvania judges from ordering candidates for public office to pay legal bills of a successful court challenge to their nomination paperwork.
Republicans and Democrats had successfully transformed that threat of financial penalties into a cudgel that scared off independent or minor-party candidates from running, ballot-access advocates say. Krawchuk cited that as the reason he has not run since 2002, when he garnered 1 percent of the vote.
“People have asked me over the years, ‘how come I’m not doing it?’” Krawchuk said. “I like my house, I enjoy living there.”
Kerns called himself a free-market advocate who switched his registration from Republican in 2016 and, in 2012, was a supporter of former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, a favorite of libertarians and tea party conservatives.
Kerns accused Barletta and Casey of being part of “the swamp,” and said he supports free market solutions and more citizen involvement in government. Kerns said he is sick of party committees selecting nominees and not seeing a candidate on the ballot who represents his best interests.
“The only way to solve it is to have more choices so people can actually decide if they have someone who is representing them rather than the lobbyists who are paying for their bankroll,” Kerns said.