Ballot Access Laws in Georgia, An Overview

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(APN) ATLANTA — With Georgia’s most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation for independent candidates and third parties having gotten a lot of media attention this year, Atlanta Progressive News hosted a Town Hall Meeting on the subject last month.

During the first segment of the Town Hall, APN provided an overview of ballot access laws in Georgia. Seeing as how the laws are so complicated and inaccessible, most Georgia citizens do not fully understand what Georgia’s ballot access laws are, nor how they work.

This article repeats that overview, with some additional information.

POLITICAL PARTIES AND POLITICAL BODIES

The first important thing to know is that Georgia law distinguishes between two types of political organizations: political parties and political bodies.

There are currently only two political parties in the State of Georgia: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

In addition there are three political bodies: the Conservative Party, the Green Party, and the Libertarian Party, Matt Carrothers, press secretary for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, told APN.

The Conservative Party is a new political body in Georgia, having filed for the first time in January of 2010.

The Green Party first filed in Georgia in 1996, and most recently renewed their filing in 2009.

The Libertarian Party first filed in Georgia in 1972 and most recently renewed their filing in 2010.

Now, a political organization is defined as “an affiliation of electors organized for the purpose of influencing or controlling the policies and conduct of government through nomination of candidates for public office, and, if possible, election…”

According to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) 21-2-2, a political party is a political organization that received 20 percent or more of the statewide vote for their candidate in a governor’s race; or that received 20 percent or more of the nationwide vote for their Presidential candidate.

Not since 1898 has a third party candidate for governor won more than 20 percent of the vote in Georgia, and that was a candidate for the Populist Party, which is no longer registered in Georgia, Richard Winger, of Ballot Access News, told APN.

And not since 1912 has a third party candidate for President of the US won more than 20 percent of the vote nationwide, and that was Teddy Roosevelt, who ran as a Progressive Party candidate.

A political body is defined as any political organization that is not a political party.

As stated earlier, there are basic paperwork and registration requirements that a political organization must complete to be a recognized political body. According to 21-2-110, the political body must be registered with the State of Georgia. According to 21-2-113, the political body must establish a Chief Executive Committee, as well as municipal and county committees, where it wishes to run candidates at municipal and county levels. The rules of the political body at each level must be filed with Georgia’s Secretary of State.

BALLOT ACCESS LAWS AND PETITION REQUIREMENTS

While common references are made to Georgia’s ballot access laws, in reality, there is no section of Georgia law called the ballot access section. Instead, there are various laws in Georgia’s elections code which contain provisions pertinent to political body and independent candidates.

For example, in the section on filing fees (OCGA 21-2-131) and the section on notice of candidacy (OCGA 21-2-132), there are specific rules for independent and political body candidates which are different from the rules for candidates participating in a Democratic or Republican Primary, and are different still from the rules for candidates running in an nonpartisan race [such as municipal office or judgeship].

Readers will recall that former Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood (Post 2-at-large) ran for Fulton County Chairwoman, attempting to get on the ballot with a massive petition drive as an independent candidate. While it was the petition requirements that were the most burdensome and received the most attention, it was actually the notice of candidacy requirement that kept Norwood off the ballot [Norwood turned in a form at 4pm that was due at noon].

So what are Georgia’s petition requirements? Well, it depends on whether it is a statewide race or a non-statewide race.

In a statewide race, according to OCGA 21-2-170, an independent or political body candidate must obtain signatures from 1 percent of registered voters eligible to vote in the last election, in order to get on the ballot.

There is one exception, however, and that is an exception the Libertarian Party has taken advantage of.

According to OCGA 21-2-180, any political body which is duly registered, is qualified to nominate statewide candidates by convention if: the body files a 1 percent petition (see above), or if in the preceding election, the political body nominated a candidate statewide and that candidate received at least 1 percent of the vote.

The Libertarian Party in recent years was able to get a statewide candidate on the ballot, and furthermore, that candidate received more than 1 percent of the vote. Therefore, that made them eligible to nominate statewide candidates by convention the following election.

As long as one Libertarian Party candidate receives at least 1 percent of the vote statewide each election cycle, the Libertarian Party perpetuates themselves back on the statewide ballot next year.

That is why voters have seen Libertarian Party candidates for most statewide offices, such as Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, US Senate, etc., in recent years. The Libertarian Party selects their statewide candidates by convention. OCGA 21-2-172 spells out the process and procedure for political body conventions. Political parties, on the other hand, nominate their candidates through the Primary Election process, which is run by the State.

That is the difference between the Libertarian Party and the other two political bodies in Georgia [Conservative Party, Green Party]. All three of them are political bodies, however, only the Libertarian Party is a political body which is also pre-qualified to run statewide candidates without gathering petition signatures.

However, Libertarian Party candidates must still collect signatures to run in non-statewide elections.

Now, what about non-statewide races? For any jurisdiction that is not statewide [such as a county, US congressional district, State House district, State Senate district], a candidate wishing to run as an independent or political body candidate must collect signatures from at least 5 percent of the registered voters eligible to vote in the last election in that jurisdiction.

For Norwood and Fulton County in 2010, that was about 22,000 signatures. For Faye Coffield and the 4th US Congressional District in 2008, that was about 15,000.

Overall, if a candidate wishes to run for an office that is not a nonpartisan office, they have three choices. They can run as an independent candidate, although there will be petition requirements no matter what. They can run as a political body candidate, although there will be petitioning requirements unless they are Libertarian running statewide. Or they can run in a Democratic or Republican Primary with no petitioning requirements.

It should be noted that an individual must file a sworn statement from the Chair and Secretary of a political body, in order to appear on the ballot as a candidate for that political body. In other words, someone cannot just decide they are going to run as a Conservative Party candidate in, for example, their State House district, without obtaining the blessing of said Party, even if they collect all the necessary signatures.

Similarly, someone cannot simply run as a candidate for a political body that they make up, such as the Mashed Potatoes and Gravy Party. Such a party would have to form committees and rules and file paperwork with the state, in order for candidates to run under the banner of that political body. Short of running as a candidate under the banner of one of Georgia’s two political parties or three political bodies, a citizen would only have the option of running as an independent.

This is the first in a series of articles by Atlanta Progressive News intended to enlighten public discourse regarding ballot access laws in Georgia. Stay tuned for more.

(END/2010)

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