The path to the ballot — especially for political newcomers willing to run for local office — should be simple to navigate.

Several would-be candidates in key local races, however, stumbled on their way to the May 16 primary, as detailed by Erie Times-News reporters Nico Salvatori and Kevin Flowers.

Four Democrats seeking to run for the Erie School Board got knocked out of the running in March after resident Kelly Heberle challenged their nominating petitions due to a filing error. Darlene Feeney, Cynthia Muhammad, Tyler Titus and Felix Lohitai filed required statements of financial interests at the Erie County Voter Registration Office, but failed to also file them as required at the governing authority of the political entity in which they were running, in this case the Erie School District offices. Erie County Judge William R. Cunningham, following the letter of the state Ethics Act, ruled it was a fatal error.

That same mistake could have decimated the crowded field of candidates seeking party nominations in the mayoral primary had someone raised a similar challenge. Both Republicans, John Persinger and Jon Whaley, and five of the seven Democrats running, Lisa Austin, Jay Breneman, Almitra Clerkin, Steve Franklin and Joe Schember, filed the financial interests forms at the voter registration office as required, but failed to file the forms by the March 7 deadline at City Hall.

The candidates who made the mistake variously blamed "rookie error" or noted that no one told them they had to file the statement in two places.

Information about the filing requirement was not hidden. It is noted in the county's online instructions for candidates and on the state's financial interests form. County officials said candidates were also told of the dual filing requirement at informational forums.

Still, one of the dismissed candidates, Muhammad, raised a valid criticism. The law only gains teeth when someone utilizes a narrow window to file a challenge based on a failure to file the form.

That seems to render the requirement as a tactical land mine more easily deployed by more savvy, veteran politicos to eliminate challengers before the election.

If transparency is the goal of the rule, then perhaps, as Muhammad argues, a violation of the rule should result in automatic elimination from the ballot, or perhaps candidates should be given a window to correct the error once it is flagged.

Erie County Clerk of Elections Doug Smith said in the future officials plan to stress more forcefully that the dual filing is required.

In the meantime, state officials should consider tailoring the rule to meet its sole intent — transparency — and reduce its capacity to winnow a promising field based on a technicality.