Norwood Declines to Appeal Adverse Ballot Access Ruling
(APN) ATLANTA — Last week, on Tuesday, August 03, 2010, former City Councilwoman Mary Norwood (Post 2-at-large) notified her supporters by email that she would not appeal the ruling by Judge Jerry Baxter on July 27, 2010, which denied her access to the ballot as an independent candidate for Fulton County Chairperson.
“It’s been a long and disappointing week,” Norwood wrote. “Despite over 33,000 signatures on petitions, raising over $80,000, incurring a $40,000 personal debt, I was not allowed on the ballot.”
“After the setback at Fulton County, I conferred with my local and national teams and discussed the scenarios of recourse in various courts. At the end of an extensive and exhaustive review, I determined that the judge’s decision would stand,” Norwood wrote.
“During my twenty year career to fight for you and your quality of life, I have always set my sights on what was right and what was winnable. And because of your strong support, we have accomplished a great deal. But there is much more to be done,” Norwood wrote.
“There are many ways that those of us who want to see improvement in our city, our county and our region can be involved. Being an elected official is only one of them. At the moment, I’m taking some time to weigh several courses of action. One thing I readily pledge to you is that I will continue to be involved,” Norwood wrote.
“I have had many ask if I will run as a write-in candidate, but the reality is that it would be not be possible to win a county-wide race as a write-in candidate, even with your support. Just as our laws make it extraordinarily challenging to run outside the two-party system as an Independent candidate, garnering enough votes–to win–from voters who would “write in” a name that isn’t on the ballot isn’t feasible or realistic,” Norwood wrote.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Norwood’s campaign turned in some 33,000 petition signatures to the Fulton County Board of Elections on time; however, she was late on a separate deadline in which she had to file her notice of candidacy by noon on a Friday. She had turned in the form at around 4pm.
“Pursuant to OCGA 9-4-2 and 9-6-20, Plaintiff Mary Norwood files this Verified Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Mandamus seeking a judicial declaration that the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections (1) has authority to accept a Notice of Candidacy filed four hours and forty minutes after the statutory deadline; and (2) the Board should have accepted Norwood’s Notice of Candidacy in light of its finding that the delay caused no harm,” Norwood’s attorney, Matt Maguire, wrote, according to copies of Norwood’s lawsuit filed July 22, 2010, obtained by APN.
“Norwood brings this action seeking a declaration that the Elections Board erred in concluding as a matter of law that it lacks discretion to accept Norwood’s Notice of Candidacy. Because Norwood’s Notice of Candidacy was filed in substantial compliance with statutory requirements, the Elections Board should have accepted the Notice,” Maguire argued.
The Judge’s ruling, dated July 27, 2010, stated “The Board’s Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED, and Plaintiff’s Verified Complaint is DISMISSED.”
“Alternatively, the Court DENIES the relief sought by Plaintiff in her Verified Complaint and finds that she is not entitled to a declaratory judgment in her favor or mandamus relief,” Judge Baxter wrote.
Numerous voice messages left for Norwood were not returned.
What this means is that only Democratic candidate and incumbent John Eaves, and Republican candidate Steve Broadbent, will appear on the November General Election ballot.
Eaves will have a difficult time being reelected. Fulton County has historically alternated from Democratic to Republican chairmanships; Karen Handel, currently a Republican candidate for Governor, recently served as Chairwoman up until 2006.
Moreover, if independent and Democratic Norwood supporters are so disgusted with Eaves’s efforts to disenfranchise thousands of Fulton County voters, that they choose to stay home, Broadbent could very well be elected.
It is important to note that Broadbent does not support the creation of Milton County.
Richard Winger, a nationwide expert in ballot access issues, said he thought Norwood made the wrong legal argument and may have been successful had she challenged the Constitutionality of having a notice of candidacy deadline earlier than the petition deadline itself.
Winger said that he tried to urge Maguire to challenge the constitutionality of the law, but that Maguire told him he thought the judge had no appetite to hear such a case.
Winger said that Maguire’s argument–that the Board had the discretion to accept a late notice–was a slippery slope. “What if it’s a week late?” he asked.
Winger said that there have been at least three cases–two in the 11th Circuit–which would have set the groundwork for a constitutional challenge.
In the first case, New Alliance Party of Alabama v. Hand (1991), a panel of the 11th Circuit affirmed that Alabama’s April 6th filing deadline for the petition signatures themselves was constitutionally impermissible because it was two months before the Primary and posed a discriminatory disadvantage to minor political parties.
In the second case, Cromer v. State of South Carolina (1990), a panel of the 4th Circuit affirmed that South Carolina’s March 30th declaration deadline for independent candidates was unconstitutional, when the signatures themselves were not due until August 01.
In the third case, Bergland V. Harris (1985), a panel of the 11th Circuit remanded a case challenging Georgia’s petition requirements for statewide candidates [2.5 percent of registered voters at that time] and notice of candidacy deadline, to the lower court. However, before the lower court could reconsider, the Georgia legislature lowered the statewide ballot access requirement to 1 percent in 1985.
Winger said that a citizen or group of citizens could still bring a constitutional challenge to Georgia’s current early filing deadline for a notice of candidacy, but that it would need to be done in the near future in order to affect the current race, and that it would be better to have Norwood as a co-defendant on the case.
In the meantime, APN received a press release from Christina Tobin for Free and Equal Access stating that Georgia’s Faye Coffield case–challenging the 5 percent petitioning requirement for non-statewide elections–is being appealed to the Supreme Court of the US. APN has reported almost exclusively on Coffield’s case since it was filed in 2008. Check back at APN for more on that development in the coming days.
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