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October 15, 2008

Write-off

Judge: Independent state Senate candidate is out

A vote for Scott Ritcher in the Nov. 4 election won’t count. 

That’s the message Jefferson Circuit Court Judge A.C. McKay Chauvin delivered late Friday afternoon, ruling on a lawsuit filed by incumbent Democrat Denise Harper Angel against Ritcher, an independent candidate running in the 35th state Senate district. Angel’s lawsuit challenged Ritcher’s nominating petition, alleging that 19 of the 105 signatures he gathered were invalid. State law requires any candidate not of the two major political parties to gather 100 signatures of people who could vote for him or her to get on the ballot. 

“Well, I’m pleased because I think the court system maintained the protections that are given to the voters by the election laws,” said Angel, reached at her home Monday evening. She accused Ritcher of making a “mockery of the whole system” in his quest to get on the ballot, and her tone was visceral and angry. She chided Ritcher for gathering some of his signatures at a Germantown bar, referencing a prior story in this newspaper. 

Since Angel’s suit was filed Sept. 3, Ritcher has assailed the incumbent and the Kentucky Democratic Party, which assisted Angel’s campaign in researching her opponent’s petition and filing suit. He wrote a letter to Angel the day after the suit was filed, saying he was “certain” her constituents would perceive a one-candidate election as democracy gone awry, and asking her to drop the suit. (Republican John Albers is facing his own set of problems: He was arrested and charged with felony wanton endangerment, menacing and fourth-degree assault, after he allegedly fired a gun at a man he claims stole from him.) 

Ritcher also railed against Angel for accepting campaign contributions from pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, Citigroup and Humana, none of which, he continued, are located in her district. 

In an interview Monday, Ritcher called the verdict disheartening, sounding a refrain he’s used before, that in a district that’s 70 percent Democratic, Angel is disenfranchising members of her own party. 

“I think the (general) opinion is my opinion, that people are disappointed that a Democrat would use her resources to silence the wishes of other Democrats,” he said. “That’s what’s been disappointing to me.”

Angel said the notion that most of those who signed Ritcher’s nominating petition are registered Democrats is false, adding that she’s not the one disenfranchising voters: “Election laws are very important, particularly in terms of a person who wants to be in a capacity where they make laws.” 

“He either thinks they don’t pertain to him or he doesn’t care about them, and voters need to be protected from that,” Angel continued, adding that her lawsuit wasn’t about Ritcher so much as making sure election laws were enforced. 

In a response filed Sept. 23, Ritcher argued the state’s voter database system and gerrymandered Senate districts — the 35th looks an awful lot like Mikhail Gorbachev’s birthmark — make for an unreliable system. It is, in fact, quite difficult to discern district boundaries on state maps. 

In an e-mail sent to supporters early Monday, Ritcher lamented the obstacles an independent candidate must navigate to land on a Kentucky ballot. “Trying to play by the rules is incredibly difficult when the rules have been set up to exclude people like you,” he wrote. 

Because ballots have already been printed, Ritcher’s name will still appear. Per the judge’s order, the county clerk will display signs reminding voters that Ritcher’s tally won’t count. The musician, designer, author and former mayoral candidate said he would not appeal. 

Ritcher said Tuesday he intended to file as a write-in candidate. However, according to Les Fugate, deputy assistant secretary of state, Kentucky law does not allow a candidate whose name appears on the ballot to also file as a write-in for the same office. Fugate said the only exception is if someone running for a different office dies, is disqualified or is otherwise rendered incapable of running. He said if Ritcher tried to file Tuesday, his office would not allow it. 

In response, Ritcher said he would consult his attorney and perhaps ask Judge Chauvin to intervene, as the original purpose — and practical application — of Angel’s lawsuit was to remove Ritcher’s name from the ballot. If the ballots had not already been printed, he reasoned, it would not be an issue. 

“I need to somehow get the law to treat me in a way that it treats every other person in Kentucky,” he said.