US Supreme Court Declines to Hear Ballot Access Case

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) decided today that it would not hear the Georgia ballot access case, Faye Coffield v. Brian Kemp.  According to the court’s website, it denied Coffield’s petition for a writ of certiorari.

Atlanta Progressive News has reported on the case since it was first filed.

Coffield attempted to get on the ballot as an independent candidate for US Congress in 2008 against US Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).  She challenged Georgia’s five percent petition requirement for non-statewide races, which she was an insurmountable threshold.

The Court, as usual, offered no explanation for why it did not accept the case.  However, at the same time, it declined to hear other very important cases including some of national scope.

Richard Winger of Ballot Access News told APN that he believed the Court had to prioritize, and that there are only so many cases it can hear.

The Coffield case was originally thought to be a stellar legal case, where Coffield was the first candidate with standing, who actually tried to get on the ballot, to challenge the law on the grounds she did.  Winger previously had told APN that previous Georgia challenges had been by parties such as third political parties.

The case was originally filed on August 29, 2008, with US District Court, Northern District of Georgia, as Faye Coffield v. Karen Handel (then-Secretary of State).

The federal court ruled in the State’s favor.  The court argued that a previous lawsuit, Jenness v. Fortson (1971), had already decided the validity of Georgia’s law.

However, Jenness v. Fortson occurred in 1971, and since then, Georgians have had a few decades of experience with candidates being unable to get on the ballot under the five percent rule.

Indeed, not since 1964 has Georgia had an independent or political body candidate on the ballot for US House.

In addition, a recent SCOTUS ruling noted that the test of whether a ballot access law is constitutional is whether candidates can actually use the law to successfully gain access to the ballot (Storer v. Brown, 1974).

However, the federal court was not moved by those facts.

The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld the federal court’s decision on March 19, 2010, arguing that while it may be true that Coffield was unable to gain access to the ballot, Coffield had not provided the court with information on how many other candidates had tried to get on the ballot and failed.

Incidentally, last year alone, at least nine candidates failed to get on the ballot, including former Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood’s failed attempt to get on the ballot as an independent candidate for Fulton County Chairman; Jeff Anderson, an independent candidate for Georgia’s 11th US House District, who gathered over 14,000 signatures and fell short of the 20,819 required; Brad Bryant, the incumbent state school superintendent, who collected 36,000 signatures in a few weeks, but fell short; Ray Boyd, a candidate for Governor; and Keith Tomkins; Brad Ploeger, a Libertarian; Chuck Pardue; Brook Nebel, an independent; Allen Williamson, an independent; and Kirk Howell, who also tried and failed to gain access to the ballot for State House or Senate seats.

One candidate who did successfully get on the ballot through a five percent petition is State Rep. Rusty Kidd, an independent.

As previously reported by APN, the Coalition for Free and Open Elections (COFOE), the Center for Competitive Democracy, and Free & Equal, filed a friend of the court brief with the SCOTUS in support of Coffield’s final appeal, in which they outlined the failed attempts of all nine of Georgia candidates in 2010.

It is possible–although we will never know–that the court could not consider the information provided in the friend of the court brief, because it was new information that had not been part of the lower court record.

But this is not the end of the ballot access movement in Georgia.  Groups like VoterGA, the Libertarian Party of Georgia, and others will be continuing to push for ballot access.

State Rep. Kidd told APN he expects to introduce a ballot access bill in the State legislature to eliminate petition requirements altogether, next month.

State Rep. Stephanie Benfield, a progressive Democrat who has introduced ballot access legislation in the past, told APN she will speak with Kidd about supporting his bill.

Kidd, along with a professor who supports ballot access, have also been appointed to Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s Elections Advisory Council, which will be meeting with the public and forming recommendations this year.

Kidd adds that he suspects many lawmakers may prefer to hold off until 2012 to make any changes in order to give the Council time to make its recommendations.

Meanwhile, there are also the possibilities for future lawsuits.  For example, one of the failed candidates from 2010 could file a lawsuit similar to Coffield’s, however, correcting for the omission of information about how many candidates have tried and failed [which is now available, at least from 2010].

“I’m deeply disappointed the SCOTUS would not hear this case,” Ploeger, one of the nine candidates, said.  “This is an injustice against our civil rights as Georgia voters to have the representatives we wish.  Georgia is more and more becoming a one-party state.  I’m worried about us going back to the Jim Crow era.”

(END / 2011)

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