The Lead

Democrat Enid Santiago survives petition challenge in Lehigh Valley’s 134th House District seat 

By: - April 13, 2022 6:39 pm

Enid Santiago, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for state House in Lehigh County (photo provided).

Democrat Enid Santiago, of Allentown, survived a challenge to her nomination petition, meaning her name will remain on the May 17 primary ballot for Lehigh County’s 134th House District. 

The Commonwealth Court issued a ruling on her case on Wednesday. 

She will face incumbent Democratic state Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, who was among the challengers to her nominating documents. Emmaus Borough Council President Brent Labenberg is seeking the Republican nomination. 

In Santiago’s case, Schweyer, of Allentown, said in a court filing that nearly half of the signatures on her nomination petitions were invalid.

Santiago’s petitions contained 508 signatures, but Schweyer alleges 240 of those are invalid, mostly because many of those 240 who signed the petitions are not registered Democrats who live in the new 134th District as required by law. 

The district comprises Emmaus and parts of Allentown and Salisbury Township.

A candidate for the state House needs 300 signatures to get on the ballot. Santiago’s petitions would fall 32 short of that number. 

Two others joined Schweyer in the challenge: Leroy Bachert Jr. and Luis Lantigua.

In response to the ruling, Schweyer issued a statement, saying that he disagreed with the decision. 

“But regardless of the court’s decision, Ms. Santiago readily admitted that more than 1/3 of the total number of her signatures were bad and people are allowed to remain skeptical,” he said. 

Schweyer, who had more than 700 signatures on his petition, said he always checks signatures on nomination petitions and that in doing so in this case was not a personal indictment of Santiago. 

He said the petition process is arduous but “demonstrates to residents a candidate’s work ethic, grassroots support, and organizational abilities: three vital characteristics of a successful elected official. 

He said he looks forward to an honest campaign focused on issues.

 This is the second time that Schweyer and Santiago became embroiled in an election-related challenge.

Two years ago, Santiago, co-founder of the nonprofit SELF! Women’s Reentry who made her first attempt at state office, lost the 2020 Democratic primary to incumbent Schweyer in the then-22nd District by a mere 55 votes.

Santiago said the results of the primary should not have been certified because an election judge acknowledged improperly darkening voters’ marks on some ballots so the selections could be recognized by voting machine scanners.

“I’m thrilled that dirty politics are not going to work in my community,” Santiago said after the court ruled in her favor. The challenge by Schweyer and two others from the district, she said, put her campaign in limbo for two weeks while the matter was in court.“I couldn’t print literature or do anything,” she said, noting that the delay put her at a political disadvantage in the new 134th District.

The Lehigh County Board of Elections said Santiago never filed a complaint with the county court; by the time she questioned the election results, the deadline to ask the court to consider the case had passed, The Morning Call reported at the time.

Because of redistricting that took effect this year, Schweyer and Santiago now live in the 134th District.

Santiago of Allentown was among three Lehigh Valley candidates who faced petition challenges. 

Bethney Q. Finch, co-chair of Moms for Liberty Lehigh County, a national parental rights group that grew out of the anti-mask movement, withdrew her nomination petition to run in the 132nd district before a hearing on the matter was heard.

The Commonwealth Court on Thursday approved Finch’s request to set aside her petition due to invalid signatures. See more on this and other challenges here. 

Finch’s withdrawal means there is no Republican on the primary ballot for the seat now held by incumbent Democrat Mike Schlossberg.

Norberto Dominguez, who was running for the newly created 22nd House seat but also dropped out last week before challenges to his petition could be heard in Commonwealth Court. 

Katherine Reinhard covers Allentown and the Lehigh Valley for the Capital-Star. Readers may follow her on Twitter @KMReinhard.

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Katherine Reinhard
Katherine Reinhard

Katherine Reinhard, a veteran journalist, is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Lehigh Valley Correspondent and a co-editor of Armchair Lehigh Valley, a Substack newsletter focused on politics in the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton region.