It’s that time of the election season: When political candidates gang up on each other and try to knock the competition off the ballot.

How does this happen exactly? Well, to get a ballot position, you’re required to collect the signatures of a certain number of registered voters. Anyone can challenge those signatures by claiming they don’t belong to a registered voter, are forged, or that there were irregularities in the collection process. Most of the challengers are typically associated with a rival campaign.

Today, preliminary hearings on petitions for the Sept. 9 primary ballot were held at the Board of Elections and Ethics headquarters at One Judiciary Square. Ward 8 council candidate Sandra “S.S.” Seegars disputed the petitions of no fewer than four of her fellow Barry challengers, and managed to knock off at least one, economic-development consultant Yavocka Young.

The issue with Young’s petitions was that the date of the circulator’s signature was dated prior to the dates of the collected signatures, indicating that the circulator signed off on the completed petition before collecting the signatures—-a no-no.

Young says she’ll run instead on the general-election ballot as an “indepedent Democrat.” She picked up new petitions after her primary petitions were ruled invalid.

“It gives me much more time to reach out to the people of Ward 8,” she says. “I’m excited.”

Then there’s Ward 1 resident and state committee candidate Lynn C. French, representing the “Obama’s Ward One Democrats” slate, who is challenging four candidates on the competing Obama4UnityBeatsMcCain slate. Among the challenged candidates: Ian Martinez and Jason Barry, who happen to be actual live Obama staffers! Also noteworthy is that one of the signatures that French is challenging belongs to Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery, director of the Office of Campaign Finance. She forgot to fill in her address, French alleges. The initial word is that French’s challenge will not stand.

The real show, though, is in the shadow senator race. Current Shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown and former Shadow Sen. Florence Pendleton are challenging the petitions submitted by Phil Pannell, the ubiquitous Ward 8 activist who is challenging two-term incumbent Paul Strauss.

Brown, who is not up for re-election until 2012, says the effort is about making sure that Pannell’s signatures are “up to snuff,” and says that the challenge was led by Pendleton.

“Florence wanted to do this, and I wanted to back her up,” he says.

Strauss, both Pendleton and Brown report, had nothing to do with the challenge, though Brown has no trouble admitting he has a horse in the race. “I’d like to see Sen. Strauss re-elected,” he says. “I’m not hiding my loyalties.”

Pendleton, for her part, says her challenge was motivated by not only what she sees as faulty petitions, but her distaste for the candidate who submitted them. “I think Phil Pannell lacks the qualities that are necessary for him to be the senator. He just lacks what I think he should have. But I don’t want to go into it.”

Brown speaks in similarly oblique terms: “This is not something that I enjoy doing, but I think this is an important thing. It really has to do with the personalities involved as much as anything else.”

Allow LL to parse their words: Pannell is enjoying a taste of his own medicine. Two years ago, when Pannell ran for a shadow senate seat, he challenged incumbent Pendleton’s petitions and managed to knock her off the ballot, clearing the way for Brown’s victory.

Pannell says his efforts against Pendleton in no way resemble what she’s doing to him. “The thing about my stuff is that my stuff is very well-based. Mine wasn’t to throw out charges and hope something sticks,” he says.

The initial ruling today held that Pannell has the requisite number of signatures to get on the Democratic ballot, but word is that Pendleton and Brown will press further in a public hearing tomorrow, trying to prove charges of forgery on the part of Pannell’s circulators.

“This is really adversarial,” he says. “They still want to push it. They just want to mess with me.”