Excessive Drama Surrounding Petition Challenges Is a Turnoff for Voters

Challenging candidates’ nominating petitions to knock them off the ballot is a staple of Philly politics  — but this year the aftermath was more sideshow than democratic process.

City Hall (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The nastiest phase of the Philly election cycle is finally over — and thank goodness it is.

Tuesday was the last day for candidates running in the May 21st primary to withdraw their names from the ballot and the deadline for final rulings on challenges to candidates’ nominating petitions. In City Council races, candidates Melissa Robbins, Tonya Bah, Sheila Armstrong, Omar Woodard, Mike Stack, Patrick Jones, and Willie Singletary either personally withdrew or were “knocked off the ballot.”

The latter term represents a staple tactic in Philly politics in which candidates from rival camps challenge the petition signatures or information submitted by their opponents as a way to avoid having to compete against them. This can be highly effective, as candidates can go from having multiple challengers to none at all. City Council president Darrell Clarke, for example, is probably breathing a sigh of relief after both of his challengers, Omar Woodard and Sheila Armstrong, lost their ability to take him on after errors in their petitions.

Candidates who lose their slots can take the loss in stride, the way did Woodard when he took it upon himself to make the announcement via social media:


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After an internal review by my campaign team, it is clear that not enough compliant signatures from registered Democratic voters in the 5th District were collected to qualify for the ballot and I will be withdrawing from consideration. I got into this race because I am passionate about ending generational poverty across Philadelphia. The 5th District, which has the second highest poverty rate among council districts in the city, higher than the citywide 25 percent. I launched this campaign with the knowledge that it would be an uphill battle and I am heartened that we had a opportunity to elevate the conversation around these critical issues. Since I announced, I’ve met hundreds of my neighbors on the block, at community meetings, and in the living rooms of many who welcomed me into their homes. I am grateful for the family on Camac Street that shared their hopes and struggles with me. I will never forget the young man on Bouvier Street who aspires to become a developer to acquire and fix up the vacant properties on his block or the young mother at the laundromat who paused reading to her child to sign my petition. I learned so much from these people and their stories fill me with urgency and hope. I call on all candidates to remain focused on the needs of the people who will elect them. We must always keep our neighbors, and our communities, at the center of our work. Though I am no longer a candidate for City Council, I hope my candidacy – and the candidacies of others – helps raise the urgency around issues of poverty and the lack of political participation. And I will always fight to surface these issues in my work in Philadelphia, the city that I love and that has given me so much. To those who supported my campaign, I remain overwhelmed by your generosity and your
belief in me and my vision for a more prosperous future for North Philadelphia and the City. Thank you. — Omar

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Or they can add more fuel to the fire and use a cringe-worthy metaphor to attempt to settle the score, as Armstrong did on Facebook:

Look, I understand how hard it would be for anyone who had their heart set on seeing a contested bid for office through to the end. There’s no doubt that a lot of sweat, money, and ego are spent during the process. But to compare your opponent knocking you off the ballot to sexual assault is unhinged, unfair, and irresponsible. And while City Council elections are important, no type of backlash at this level from petition signature challenges should warrant public accusation and malice like this — especially when your opponent followed the rules.

And just when you thought the shenanigans were over, one of the most bizarre petition challenges in recent memory came crashing down this week. On Monday, City Council at-large candidate Devon Cade withdrew every legal challenge he had filed against the nomination papers of 30 Democratic competitors due to “medical concerns.”

Cade, a former Department of Licenses and Inspections employee, claimed he used “artificial intelligence” to track thousands of forged signatures on petitions filed by his opponents. And just in case you didn’t think this could get more strange, he even suggested that those who wanted to check out his special AI technology produce a $1 million “insurance bond.”

Despite failing to actually follow through on his ambitious quest to throw 30 candidates off the ballot, Cade still is trying to prove on social media that he has the “facts” surrounding the “heightened interest of ‘phony signatures’ and technology”:

My gut reaction: Let. It. Go.

While riding the SEPTA yesterday, a woman reading the news blurted out “Damn, can some of these candidates just hurry the fuck up and lose?” It was her reaction to reading the ongoing drama surrounding petition challenges. I’ve observed similar responses on social media by local voters who are pretty much over the petty politics that surround this part of the election cycle. For what it’s worth, to all the political hopefuls reading this: None of these antics are winning you the favor of the constituents you are campaigning to serve.

With all of the serious issues affecting our city right now, candidates should be spending energy to address the issues and prove their credibility rather than engaging in stunts that might be turning away voters.

Let’s not forget the reason we have elections is for the people to select the people they believe are the most fit to govern. Leave the over-the-top theatrics at home.