Al Gore and his supporters made election recounts famous. However, the election recount is not the most common type of legal challenge in election law, and recounts rarely succeed. The most common legal challenge in election law, and the one that succeeds far more often than a recount is the legal challenge to a nominating petition.
There are several grounds on which to challenge nominating petitions. The best way for a candidate to avoid a challenge is to be familiar with the legal requirements for nominating petitions and to pay careful attention to detail.
Generally, a petition must have a minimum number of signatures from qualified voters. The number of signatures varies depending on the office sought. The signatures must be from registered voters and they must match the signatures on file in the voter registration records. In addition, there is a residency requirement for each signer that depends on the office sought.
Finally, the person who circulates the petition must be a signer of the petition and must sign an oath that he or she witnessed all of the signatures on the petition, and the candidate must sign the oaths on the petition.
Your opponent has standing to challenge the sufficiency of your petition. The election official has the authority to bar you from the ballot. If you are barred from the ballot, your only recourse lies with the courts. Even if you survive a challenge, you have wasted valuable time that could have been spent on voter contact.
Tim Howes is an experienced election lawyer. He has successfully handled petition challenges on behalf of independent candidates. In addition, he is past counsel to Pappas for Congress (2000); Schundler for Governor (2001 and 2005); Forrester for U.S. Senate (2002); Baroni and Mitchell for Assembly (2003); Manzo for Mayor of Jersey City (2004); Tom Kean for U.S. Senate (2006); and Fred Thompson for President (2007-8), as well as many local, county and legislative races.