Democrat Lindsey Williams, of West View, was sued Monday based on claims that she’s ineligible to run for the state Senate this year.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two district voters in Commonwealth Court, alleges that Williams doesn’t meet a requirement under the state constitution that she reside in Pennsylvania four years prior to the November election.
The lawsuit follows a memo written by Republican attorney Ron Hicks to party leaders earlier this month. Hicks is the attorney challenging Williams, as well.
The lawsuit is the latest development in a bruising election battle between the Democrat and Republican Jeremy Shaffer of Ross. Earlier Monday, 90.5 WESA reported that lawn signs attacking Williams as a "Socialist” were funded by a group with ties to Shaffer’s campaign manager, Carlton Fogliani.
Williams and Shaffer are running to represent Pennsylvania’s 38th Senate district, which includes North Hills suburbs and Pittsburgh East End neighborhoods.
Monday’s lawsuit notes that Williams voted in Maryland, where she was employed by the National Whistleblowers Center, in the November 2014 election. County elections records show that Williams registered to vote in Allegheny County in December 2014.
In addition, the complaint says, a speeding ticket shows Williams’ vehicle was registered in Maryland on Nov. 10, 2014. This year’s election is Nov. 6.
The plaintiffs asked the court to strike the Democrat’s name from the general election ballot.
Williams disputed the claims last week. She said she accepted an offer for her current job with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers on Nov. 2, 2014.
“I accepted that job offer, gave notice to my employer and promptly came to Pennsylvania to start the process of moving here,” Williams told WTAE. “I had the intent to change my residency and a physical presence in the state, and that is what the law requires, and so I am legally a resident, eligible to run for office."
Monday’s suit, however, rebuts that argument as insufficient given that Williams “continued to reside and vote in the state of Maryland in November of 2014.”
The suit alleges Williams committed fraud when she submitted an affidavit this past spring indicating she’s eligible to serve as a Pennsylvania state Senator. Such affidavits must be filed along with a candidate’s nominating petitions.
A judge can remove a candidate from the ballot if the candidate files a false affidavit. But it’s too late for the courts to intervene in this race, said Adam Bonin, an attorney for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. Bonin said that opportunity passed in March, when candidates must submit the necessary paperwork to run for office. Typically, challenges to a candidate’s affidavit can be made within seven days of the filing deadline.
“That’s when you challenge someone’s qualifications for office. That’s when you challenge someone’s petitions,” Bonin said. “They are more than seven months too late at this point.”
Bonin said voters need to know who they can vote for well in advance of an election. He said parties also need this information early enough to prepare for elections.
“There are so many reasons why the law prohibits challenges this late in the process,” he said. “What’s more, it disenfranchises military voters who are already overseas voting their absentee ballots.”
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party, Jason Gottesman, did not respond directly to questions about the timing of the suit. But he said that the date of the filing “still doesn’t change the fact that we believe that Lindsey Williams - and I believe the facts bear out - that Lindsey Williams does not meet the residency requirements ... Whether that’s back in May or now, the same thing holds true.”
Democrat Bonin said Republicans are using the lawsuit as a “distraction” to compensate for “an extreme candidate who is losing.”
“This is what you do when you don’t want to talk about the issues,” he said.
Bonin doesn’t expect the court to get involved in the race before next month’s election.