Sherrie Cohen reinstated to Nov. 5 ballot

Last week The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed two lower-court rulings and reinstated Sherrie Cohen to the Nov.  5 ballot as an Independent candidate for Philadelphia City Council.

“I am thrilled that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in my favor and placed me back on the Nov. 5 ballot as an Independent candidate for City Council At-Large.” Cohen said, in an Oct. 3. email. “Though justice has been delayed, justice prevailed.”

Cohen added: “We have one month now to win this thing. I am the only LGBTQ+ candidate in this race, and when I ran in the past as a Democrat, I received more votes than the Republicans I am now seeking to defeat. Philadelphia has yet to elect our first openly LGBTQ+ councilperson.”

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.

In August, 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. Last month, Commonwealth Court upheld Fletman’s ruling. But Cohen asked the state Supreme Court to reverse the lower-court rulings, which it did.

An opinion explaining the high court’s reasoning hadn’t been released, as of presstime.

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 an Independent.

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 and Christopher Volger filed a petition in August asking Cohen be removed the general election ballot.

In court papers, Cohen faulted Fletman and Commonwealth Court for treating her withdrawal as involuntary because a judge had to give permission. Cohen argued that getting a judge’s permission to withdraw doesn’t make the withdrawal any less voluntary. Cohen also faulted 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 backwards to develop a rationale to keep Sherrie Cohen off the ballot,” Cohen’s appeal stated.

Moreover, Cohen’s appeal blasted Fletman for allowing lengthy court testimony about Cohen’s reasons for withdrawing. Cohen argued 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,” her appeal stated.

Louis S. Agre, an attorney for Alvarez, said,  “I’m very surprised that the lower courts were reversed. I haven’t seen the opinion yet. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over. Let the voters decide whether Sherrie Cohen should be elected. ” 

Previous articleOut playwright tells ordinary tales
Next articleAuthors and activism: A history of LGBT bookstores
Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.