John Kasich’s Name Might Not Appear on the Pennsylvania Ballot

KasichA Pennsylvania lawsuit challenging the eligibility of Ohio Gov. John Kasich to appear on the ballot in the Keystone State’s GOP primary in April could become a major factor in terms of both setting important state election law precedent and in ultimately deciding who becomes the eventual GOP nominee.  However, it could just as easily become moot by Wednesday morning if Gov. Kasich cannot win his home state of Ohio.

The potentially precedent setting Pennsylvania lawsuit has largely flown under the national media radar, at least until last weekend when GOP frontrunner Donald Trump fired off a few not entirely truthful tweets about the issue.

So, what is the real story with this lawsuit?

Nathaniel Rome, a college sophomore and chairman of Pennsylvania Students for Rubio, filed a lawsuit in February challenging the number of valid petition signatures Kasich submitted in order to appear on the Pennsylvania primary ballot.  Rome’s lawsuit argues that of the 2,184 signatures submitted by the Kasich campaign, over 800 of those signatures are invalid.  Pennsylvania state law requires a candidate to submit 2,000 valid signatures in order to appear on the statewide primary ballot.

Lawrence Otter, an attorney representing the Kasich campaign, does not dispute the fact that Kasich did not obtain the required number of valid signatures.  In fact, during a court hearing last week Otter agreed to a stipulation that at least 192 of the signatures were invalid — meaning Kasich failed to reach the 2,000 signature threshold by eight votes.  Nonetheless, Otter argues that the signature is irrelevant because the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit at all.  Otter contends that Rome’s challenge was untimely, arguing that it was filed 13 minutes after the signature petition challenge deadline had passed.

Under Pennsylvania law, the signature petition submission deadline was February 16 at 5:00 p.m. and challenges to those signature petitions were required to be filed within seven days of the submission deadline — February 23.  Rome filed his challenge on February 23 at 5:13 p.m.  Otter argues the seven day deadline expired at 5:00 p.m. on the 23rd, and thus Rome’s challenge is untimely and the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit.

On the other hand, Rome’s attorney, John Bravacos, argued that the statute does not specifically specify a 5:00 p.m. deadline, so it should be interpreted to allow the filing of challenges through 11:59 p.m. on the 7th day.  At a hearing last week, Bravacos cited a prior Commonwealth Court decision that interpreted the statute in question as allowing challenges to be filed through 11:59 p.m. on the 7th day.

In a supplemental brief filed before the court on Monday, Otter cited Pennsylvania case law, including a more recent state Supreme Court opinion on a similar issue, which he says supports his position that a 5:00 p.m. cutoff deadline is appropriate under these circumstances.  Bravacos is expected to file his own supplemental on the issue on Wednesday.

After reading the briefs, Judge Bonnie Leadbetter will decide whether to submit the issue to a three-judge panel of Commonwealth Judges or possibly even submit the case directly to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

It was reported over the weekend that the Kasich campaign has reached out to Rubio and asked him to tell his supporters to drop the lawsuit.

“Senator Rubio should tell his people to drop this suit and to have his super-PAC quit attacking John Kasich in Florida,” Kasich campaign spokesman Rob Nichols told Bloomberg Politics.

The Rubio campaign has not responded to the request as of Tuesday morning.

Some might interpret the Kasich campaign reaching out to the Rubio campaign in an effort to get the lawsuit dropped as a signal that they are concerned about how the court may eventually decide the case.  Given the prior Commonwealth Court ruling on this exact issue, that concern is probably not misplaced.

So, as a report noted on CNN yesterday, these 13 minutes could be the saving grace not only for Gov. Kasich’s fate the Keystone State, but also that of the #NeverTrump wing of the GOP electorate.

[image via shutterstock]

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