It’s been a nightmarish week for the Altmire campaign, and the Congressman had little to be happy about after Friday’s hearing. But whether the judge rules in his favor on Monday, or the Pa. Supreme Court agrees with him on appeal, Altmire’s name is very likely to be on the primary ballot on April 24. Here’s a look at the relevant case law and statutes.
Facts of the Case
Jason Altmire is running against fellow Rep. Mark Critz in the 12th district primary. Last month he turned in a paltry 1,651 petition signatures, well short of the 2,000 mark that is considered safe by political operatives and too close to the 1,000 minimum. The Critz camp pounced, challenging 942 of Altmire’s signatures.
Before Friday’s hearing, the Altmire camp withdrew over 300 signatures of its own volition. In court on Friday before Judge Dan Pellegrini, both sides debated individual signatures and struck more than 100 more, leaving him with 1,150. About 200 of those remaining were collected by Altmire staffer Abby Silverman, upon whom the ruling hinges.
Each side spent much of Friday arguing over where Silverman lives. Pa. law holds that a petition circulator must reside in the district where he or she circulates. Silverman is registered to vote at her parents’ house in the 12th district, but spends most nights at an apartment in the 14th district. Her drivers license, bills and pay stubs go to the 12th district; her apartment lease and cable bill is in the 14th.
Both sides agreed in court that the question of whether Altmire remains on the ballot depends on whether Silverman’s petitions count.
PoliticsPA looked last Monday at the case law surrounding the residency requirement for petition circulators. We determined that the rule mandating that they live in the district where they circulate is likely to be found unconstitutional the next time it goes before the Pa. Supreme Court. That means if Judge Pellegrini rules against Altmire Monday, he is a strong favorite to win on appeal.
Note: supporters of both sides – Altmire and Critz – have indicated that they would appeal the case.
Talking to several attorneys versed in election law, the consensus is that Judge Pellegrini is a strict judge. The fact that a U.S. congressman’s fate hangs in the balance, they say, wouldn’t sway his decision one way or the other.
Definitions of Residency
So how is Judge Pellegrini likely to rule? It’s impossible to know. We’ve included at the bottom of this article some of the relevant statutes and case law about the issue of residency. By our estimation, they favor Altmire’s case. They hold, essentially: where someone lives day to day, even for months at a time, does not get at the question of residency. The key question is, where is a person anchored?
Since Silverman, 23, has never changed her voter registration or the address on her drivers license, it seems more plausible that he residence is at her parents’ home in the 12th district rather than her apartment.
The Big Picture
If, as is likely, Altmire remains on the ballot, it will be a Phyrric victory for the Congressman. For two weeks now, he’s battled headlines that cast him in an incompetent light. Democratic party sources indicate that as a result, his usually-prolific fundraising has taken a major hit. Insiders across the state – many of whom had considered Altmire a prohibitive favorite – are giving the race a second look.
Case in point: former Pa. Democratic Chairman T.J. Rooney, who had this to say to Politico:
“You never allow something like this to determine your fate,” said T.J. Rooney, a former Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman. “People are looking at the race in a whole different way.”
Rooney, a former state legislator who is neutral in the race, said the matter had damaged Altmire’s standing with donors who now see him running an unreliable and disorganized campaign.
“This is going to be a problem no matter what the outcome is, because don’t think for a second that this hasn’t hurt fundraising,” Rooney said. “I know for a fact that contributors who are being called on every day are telling me, ‘What’s next?’”
As Critz campaign manager Mike Mikus noted, “This shows our challenge was legitimate. The fact that they withdraw 25 percent of their signatures showed that they had significant problems organizationally and compliance-wise.”
Here is are the relevant statutes and case law re: residency:
The pertinent rules for determining residence under the Election Code are set forth in 25 P.S. § 2814:
§ 2814. Rules for determining residence. In determining the residence of a person desiring to register or vote, the following rules shall be followed so far as they may be applicable:
(a) That place shall be considered the residence of a person in which his habitation is fixed, and to which, whenever he is absent, he has the intention of returning.
(b) A person shall not be considered to have lost his residence who leaves his home and goes into another state or another election district of this State for temporary purposes only, with the intention of returning.
(c) A person shall not be considered to have gained a residence in any election district of this State into which he comes for temporary purposes only, without the intention of making such election district his permanent place of abode.
In In re Lesker, 377 Pa. 411, 105 A.2d 376 (1954), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court discussed what constitutes a candidate’s residence for the purposes of qualifying as a candidate for public office:
“[i]t seems impossible to restrict the terms habitation, residence and domicile to airtight, waterproof compartments. Their meanings seem bound to escape their lexicographical boundaries and mingle with the others since a person’s place of residence may be identical with his domicile, and habitation is always a component part of residence and domicile. However, in strict technical terminology a habitation may be defined as an abode for the moment, residence a tarrying place for some specific purpose of business or pleasure, and domicile the fixed, permanent, final home to which one always intends to return. A person’s civil status is determined by his domicile. Thus, a business man may have his family home in the suburbs of a city where he lives with his wife and children. No matter where he travels nor how long he remains away, he always returns to this abode. This is his domicile. For business reasons he may have a residence in the city, even living there for many months of the year. This residence can never become the basis for voting or for candidacy for office. If traveling, he may stay at a hotel, boarding or rooming house. This would be his habitation and, regardless of expression of intention, could never become his legal domicile. Id. at 418, 105 A.2d at 380.”