HARRISBURG, PA, June 12, 2018 – The Pennsylvania Senate voted 46-3 yesterday to approve an amendment by Sen. Christine Tartaglione that would level the playing field for Magisterial District Justice candidates in elections involving an incumbent and one or more non-incumbents.
Under the amended version of Senate Bill 299, incumbent MDJs seeking re-election would no longer be required to collect at least 100 voter signatures to secure a place on the ballot. Instead, they would need only to file a certificate of nomination. But if the incumbent chooses that route, then he or she would be prohibited from challenging the legitimacy of the signatures collected by other hopeful candidates.
“Allowing a sitting Magisterial District Justice to simply submit a certificate of nomination for re-election, as opposed to collecting the 100 signatures, while requiring non-incumbent candidates to collect the requisite number of signatures is unfair,” Sen. Tartaglione said. “My amendment is simple and will level the playing field. It would allow a sitting Justice to submit a certificate of nomination but would prohibit the sitting Justice from challenging any signatures on the opponent’s petition.”
Magisterial District Justices, also known as magistrates, are the judicial system’s first level throughout most of Pennsylvania, excluding Philadelphia where Municipal Court judges serve a similar role. There are more than 500 Magisterial Districts across the state. MDJs preside over hearings involving low-level criminal offenses as well as preliminary hearings for more serious offenses. They further handle low-level civil cases and can preside over weddings, among other duties.
Under state law, MDJs must remain non-political except when running for re-election. Their terms last for six years. Current law requires all candidates for the position to collect at least 100 petition signatures to secure a ballot position. Supporters of the original SB 299, which Sen. Richard Alloway introduced on April 9, contend that the non-political nature of the position places incumbents at a disadvantage because non-incumbents are free to build their political support regardless of the election calendar.
Sen. Tartaglione’s amendment strikes a fair balance in that it would ease the political obligation of the incumbent while ensuring that incumbents cannot benefit from unequal treatment under election law.
With the Senate’s approval, SB 299 moves to the House for consideration.
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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact William Kenny at 215-533-0440 or email at William.Kenny@pasenate.com.