Rock the Boat, Baby … and Tip it Over

We are the the ones we’ve been waiting for

By Linda J. Urban with John DiLiberto contributing

What’s the definition of insanity? According to none other than Albert Einstein, it’s doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. But we’ve got a chance to do things differently as local seats, such as those on property-taxing school boards are once again up for grabs in this year’s municipal elections. And keep in mind that school districts encompass a greater territory than their namesake municipality, such as the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, which includes Wilkes-Barre Township, Plains, Laflin, Bear Creek, Laurel Run and other communities.

Any registered Democrat or Republican voter can run in these parties’ May Primary, so don’t let political inexperience or even the fear of retribution be a deterrent. The Wilkes-Barre Taxpayers Association and their allies will gladly guide potential candidates through the whole process, from claiming candidate document packets from Luzerne County Voter Services, to petitioning, to submitting the minimal campaign finance reporting forms and reports. Surely, there exist many voters who should become candidates – and they know it – but perhaps simply require a bit of nudging. What a shame and a loss for the whole Wilkes-Barre community should the hundreds of retired professionals, blue-collar workers, moms, dads, and others sit out another election cycle rather than seek to serve the public with integrity and humility in elected office.

We citizens retain the power by uniting and voting for new ethical candidates, those who may already be on the receiving end of property tax bills even as they struggle to balance their own household budgets. Those who may have watched helplessly as the homes of friends and family were placed on the sheriff’s auction block. Those who have grown tired of seeing the same names occupy positions of responsibility, are tired of the ongoing cronyism, and wearied by the continuing appearance, at the least, of nepotism.

The candidate process formally begins by claiming a candidate document packet from the Luzerne County Voter Services/Bureau of Election office, Suite 207, 20 North Pennsylvania Avenue during normal business hours around February 15th – the bureau will announce the availability of these packets. In them should be found an election calendar, nomination petitions, campaign finance forms and other related documentation.

Petitioning for nomination to a particular position or office is the means by which a candidate’s name comes to appear on the Primary ballot before the voters and runs this year from February 19th to March 12th, inclusive, with the Municipal Primary Election falling on May 21st. Petitioning is also a skill in and of itself, and once again the Taxpayers Association would be happy to provide guidance and instruction to novice petitioners as well as assist in the circulation of the nomination forms, themselves, during the three-week signature gathering window. Signature requirements range from ten for a precinct committee position, for instance, to some 400 for a mayoral race. But remember, these must be valid signatures and so a host of pitfalls are to be avoided, such as discrepancies between the signature line information and voter’s registration, abbreviations of place names, abbreviated forms of dates, and the like. To be on the safe side, the usual recommended is to obtain twice as many signatures as are required for entrance onto the ballot, ie, “ballot access.”

So, in a race requiring 400 signatures, 800 should provide a sufficient cushion in the event of a petition challenge, in which the validity of signatures may be contested. However, this factor of two is on occasion no assurance of ballot inclusion, as the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania experienced yet again in 2012 when they found themselves in a grueling nine-week legal battle to verify as valid 20,601 entries out of the 49,000 or so submitted for statewide candidates, including their Presidential nominee, Gary Johnson, and their State Auditor General nominee, Wilkes-Barre’s own Betsy Summers. The LPPA managed to prevail, and even won some court decisions in the process which will benefit the Party’s future candidates.

Once the nomination petitions have been filed and all candidacy requirements have been met the ensuing campaign season is punctuated by a series of multi-week finance reporting periods, but so long as receipts, expenditures, and liabilities each do not exceed $250 for a particular filing period, the reporting and records retention requirements are not difficult to meet. Once again, the Taxpayers Association is available to assist in preparing and submitting the necessary campaign finance documentation.

So, if you’ve been waiting for an invitation to run, this is it. Welcome to the political arena.

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