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PETITION OBJECTING TO NOMINATIONS AND/OR PAPERS BILL RILEY FOR OFFICE MAYOR CITY CHESTER ETC. BILL RILEY ET AL. (10/12/83)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: October 12, 1983.

IN RE: PETITION OBJECTING TO THE NOMINATIONS AND/OR PAPERS OF BILL RILEY FOR THE OFFICE OF MAYOR OF THE CITY OF CHESTER ETC. BILL RILEY ET AL., APPELLANTS

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County in case of In Re: Petition Objecting to the Nomination Petitions and/or Papers of Bill Riley for the Office of Mayor of the City of Chester, and of Johnnie Monroe, Charlie L. Warren, II, and Lorraine E. Edwards for the Offices of City Council of the City of Chester, as independent candidates for the Municipal General Election for the year 1983, No. 83-6041, dated July 18, 1983.

COUNSEL

John M. Gallagher, Jr., Richard, DiSanti, Hamilton, Gallagher & Paul, for appellants.

Edward J. Zetusky, Jr., for appellee.

Judges Rogers, MacPhail and Barry, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.

Author: Macphail

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 192]

Appellants*fn1 have brought this appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County declaring their nomination papers to be invalid. Appellants seek to be nominated as candidates, representing the Chester Independent Party, for the offices of Mayor and City Council in the City of Chester in the upcoming municipal election. This opinion is filed in support of our order, dated September 14, 1983, reversing the order of the court of common pleas and reinstating Appellants' nomination papers.*fn2

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 193]

On June 3, 1983, Appellee instituted the instant challenge to Appellants' nomination papers pursuant to Section 977 of the Election Code (Code)*fn3 by filing a petition to set aside the papers with the court of common pleas. The court conducted three hearings on the petition and subsequently determined that although a total of 258 names appear on the papers, they include only 132 valid signatures. It is agreed that a total of 134 valid signatures are necessary for nomination.

Pertinent to the instant appeal are three categories of signatures which the trial court found to be invalid:

1. The signatures of four persons who, in addition to signing their own names, also signed the names of other persons.*fn4

2. Thirty signatures with stated addresses which differ from those listed on the signers' current registration cards.

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 1943]

. Six names which are printed on the nomination papers rather than written in the script or cursive style used on the signers' voter registration cards.

Section 951(c) of the Code, 25 P.S. § 2911(c) provides as follows regarding the manner of signing nomination papers:

Each person signing a nomination paper shall declare therein that he is a qualified elector of the State or district, as the case may be, and shall add to his signature his occupation and residence, giving city, borough or township, with street and number, if any, and shall also add the date of signing. . . . (Emphasis added.)

Thus, the primary prerequisite for signing a nomination paper is that the signer be a "qualified elector" of the election district involved.

The trial court concluded, with respect to the first category of signatures which were stricken, that the four individuals who affixed names in addition to their own to the nomination papers "cannot claim validity as signers". We disagree.

We first observe that there has been no challenge made to the genuineness of the four signatures at issue. Instead, the trial court based its invalidation of the signatures on Section 1813 of the Code, 25 P.S. § 3513, which provides that "if any person shall fraudulently sign any name not his own to any . . . nomination paper . . . he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. . . ." (Emphasis added.) Although there is no indication in the record that the signers here have been convicted or even charged with fraudulently signing another person's name to the nomination papers, the trial court nevertheless concluded that the four signatures must be stricken to prevent a fraud on the nomination process.

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 195]

We think, however, that unless and until the four signers are actually convicted under Section 1813, they remain "qualified electors" as that term is defined by the Code*fn5 and may not be denied the important right of participating in the election process. We note that the Code itself provides in Section 1852, 25 P.S. § 3552, that upon conviction of a willful violation of the Code, a person must be disfranchised for four years. Absent such a conviction we conclude that an otherwise qualified elector is entitled to participate in the nomination process. Since no other challenge has been made to the four signatures at issue, we must hold that the signatures were improperly stricken from the nomination papers.

Having established the validity of four additional signatures, the total number of valid signatures is increased to 136, or two in excess of the number needed for nomination. We, accordingly, need not rule on the validity of the two other categories of signatures described above.*fn6

Order

The Appellee's motion to dismiss is denied. The Appellee's motion to restrict argument is denied. The order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County dated July 18, 1983, is reversed. The nomination papers of Bill Riley, Johnnie Monroe and Charlie

[ 77 Pa. Commw. Page 196]

L. Warren, II, are reinstated and the Election Bureau of Delaware County is directed to list the names of those candidates on the ballot for the offices they seek in the municipal election to be held November 8, 1983. Opinion to follow.

Disposition

Motions denied. Order reversed. Nomination papers of Riley, Monroe and Warren II are reinstated. Election Bureau directed to list names on ballot.


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