Sherrie Cohen has asked the state Supreme Court to hear her case for reinstatement to the November 5 ballot as an independent candidate for Philadelphia City Council.
Last month, Common Pleas Judge Abbe Fletman disqualified Cohen from running for a seat on City Council as an independent candidate in the general election after having relinquished her primary run as a Democrat. Fletman said Cohen withdrew too late as a Democrat to run as an independent. On Sept. 5, Commonwealth Court upheld Fletman’s ruling.
Cohen, a lesbian, withdrew from the primary race after her former campaign manager made negative comments about Deja Alvarez’s ancestry during a Trans Day of Visibility celebration.
Alvarez ran as a Democrat for an at-large Council seat. Had she won, she would have been the first openly trans member of the municipal governing body. Alvarez is challenging Cohen’s candidacy as an independent in the general election.
Of Council’s 17 seats, seven are at-large, including two reserved for non-Democrats — which Republicans have historically held. Cohen hopes to fill one of those posts as an independent in the general election.
According to Pennsylvania’s election code, if a candidate withdraws within 15 days after the deadline for filing their nomination petition, they don’t need a judge’s approval. If they withdraw after the 15-day deadline, they do need a judge’s approval.
Cohen withdrew after the 15-day deadline and thus obtained a judge’s approval.
Court cases in Pennsylvania have allowed candidates who voluntarily withdraw from a primary to run in the general election as an Independent. But if their withdrawal is involuntary because they’re stricken from the ballot due to some type of error, they’re disqualified from running as independent.
Cohen’s filing faults Fletman and Commonwealth Court for treating her withdrawal as involuntary because a judge had to give permission. Cohen argues that getting a judge’s permission to withdraw doesn’t make the withdrawal any less voluntary. Cohen’s filing faults Fletman and Commonwealth Court for appearing to place her in the same category as someone who’s been stricken from the ballot against their will.
“[Fletman and Commonwealth Court] seemed to bend over backward to develop a rationale to keep Sherrie Cohen off the ballot,” Cohen’s filing states.
Cohen’s filing acknowledges that a candidate can’t run as a Democrat and a Republican at the same time, and she’s never “cluttered” the ballot in such a manner. “There is no good reason to preclude Sherrie Cohen's nomination papers and there is no showing of any cluttering of ballots or anything of that nature if she runs as an Independent. No state interest has been asserted to justify excluding Sherrie Cohen,” the filing states.
Moreover, the filing blasts Fletman for allowing lengthy court testimony about Cohen’s reasons for withdrawing. Cohen argues that her reasons for voluntarily withdrawing are irrelevant to the case.
Cohen researched the law before deciding to withdraw and believed she could run as an independent. She subsequently collected 8,300 signatures from Philadelphians who support her candidacy. “If the law is to be changed, it would be unfair to apply these changes to [Cohen] due to the above discussed existing law,” the filing states.
As of press time, the court hadn’t ruled on Cohen’s request to hear her case.
Cohen maintains there’s sufficient case law to support her candidacy. “I shouldn’t be put in the same category as someone who was stricken from the ballot against their will,” she told PGN. “That’s not what happened in my case. I voluntarily asked the court’s permission for me to withdraw. Everything was done in accordance with the law.”
“What state interest is being served by keeping me off the ballot?” Cohen added. “None whatsoever.
Louis S. Agre, an attorney for Alvarez, declined to comment for this update.