The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a state law prohibiting candidates for state political offices from running as candidates for more than one party in the same election.
In April 2016 Christopher Rabb secured the nomination for the Democratic Party’s candidate for state representative in the 200th legislative district. A local third party, the Working Family Party (WFP), approached Rabb and asked if he was interested in running as their candidate for the same office in the district. After gathering the required signatures and submitting the required paperwork, Rabb’s nomination by the WFP was rejected by the Pennsylvania Department of State. The application was rejected because Rabb struck out a portion of the candidate affidavit that stated:
[M]y name has not been presented as a candidate by nomination petitions for any public office to be voted for at the ensuing primary election, nor have I been nominated by any other nomination papers for any such office; that if I am a candidate for election at a general or municipal election I shall not be a registered and enrolled member of a political party at any time during the period of thirty (30) days prior to the primary up to and including the day of the following general or municipal election.
Rabb argued that the paragraph violated the Pennsylvania and US Constitutions, and he and the WFP sued the state for refusing to allow him to run as both a Democrat and WFP candidate.
In a split 4-3 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the language, rejecting the argument that forcing Rabb to run as a candidate for only one political party did not violate his federal equal protection rights and state constitutional guarantee of free and equal elections. The court ruled that the legislature had a legitimate interest in limiting “fusion balloting” because of a state rule changing the nomination process for political parties that earn more than 5 percent of the vote in an election. “The (State) Department would be unable to determine what proportion of the votes cast for Rabb should be allocated when making the five percent calculation to qualify the Working Families Party as a political party,” wrote Republican Justice Sallie Mundy. The interests of administrative efficiency outweighed Rabb’s arguments, according to the majority.