Georgia Third Party Ballot Access Bill Passes House Committee
(APN) ATLANTA — HB 949, a bill that would slightly reduce the number of petition signatures required by an independent or third party candidate running for office in Georgia, has passed the Georgia House Committee on Governmental Affairs.
While the bill would not change the percentages required for independent and third party candidates running for office statewide or locally–that is, one percent or five percent, respectively–it would change the reference point for how the percentage is calculated.
Currently, Georgia law requires a petition containing signatures of one or five percent, respectively, of the number of registered voters, either statewide or in the local jurisdiction.
The new law, if HB 949 advances, would instead require only one or five percent of the number of registered voters who actually voted in the last Presidential Election.
The bill’s co-sponsors include State Reps. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming), Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville), Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta), Alisha Morgan (D-Austell), Jay Powell (R-Camilla), and Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur).
The bill was first introduced on February 08, 2012, and came out of the recommendations of Georgia’s Elections Advisory Council, created by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, which issued its final report on February 06.
The EAC report made a number of recommendations involving ballot access as well as other parts of the electoral process.
“The EAC Final Report is the product of input from the public, EAC members, county election officials, elected officials and organizations, and many hours of review and deliberation regarding the future of Georgia’s election laws and procedures,” Secretary Kemp said in a press release.
“This report demonstrates that despite our sometimes partisan differences, men and women dedicated to improving our great state can do so in a non-partisan manner for the benefit of all Georgians.”
According to the report, voter turnout in Presidential Elections is usually around seventy-five percent.
Therefore, if adopted, HB 949 would reduce the petition requirement by about twenty-five percent.
VoterGA, an elections integrity organization which also advocates for ballot access, criticized the report for not addressing the flaws with electronic voting.
“In spite of the overwhelming public outcry for verifiable voting at the town halls that were conducted last year, the EAC report does not even mention anything about the current voting equipment or the need for verifiable voting,” VoterGA said on its website.
VoterGA also puts HB 949 in context: “The estimated 25% reduction sounds significant until one understands how bad Georgia’s requirements really are. In spite of the overwhelming public outcry for real ballot access reform and removal of petition requirements, Ballot Access News has confirmed that the proposed petition change would only move Georgia from 50th to 49th, surpassing just North Carolina, which would become the worst in the country if Georgia passed the change into law.”
In 2010, Atlanta Progressive News held a Town Hall Meeting on ballot access at the Spring/4th Center in Midtown Atlanta, where numerous candidates discussed their failed efforts to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot that year.
At the Town Hall, APN polled the audience as to their preference for either reducing the petition requirements or removing them altogether; the audience unanimously chose removing the requirements altogether.
Brett Bittner, former Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, who is currently on leave campaigning for a Gubernatorial candidate in Indiana, echoed that sentiment.
“I think anything to make the ballot easier to access for a candidate is good,” Bittner told APN.
“It’s [HB 949] not ideal. What’s ideal is [State Rep.] Rusty Kidd’s proposal to remove all petition requirements. But this is a step in a right direction,” Bittner said.
HB 949 makes a number of changes to Georgia’s election code; however, the primary changes relate to ballot access.
The first few lines of the preamble to HB 949 describing the ballot access changes read as follows: “To amend Chapter 2 of Title 21 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to primaries and elections generally, so as to provide that the number of signatures for ballot access petitions, nomination petitions, and pauper’s petitions shall be based on the turnout in the last presidential election instead of voter registration totals; to provide alternative dates for political body and independent candidates to qualify for office; to provide an exemption for incumbents from filing nomination petitions; to provide that the State Election Board shall prescribe the form of nomination petitions…”
Again, the main change is to state that the one or five percent petition requirements is based on the number of registered voters who voted in the last Presidential Election.
Another change states that independent and third party candidates may file a Notice of Candidacy as early as the April before the election, although the may still choose to file as late as June, as is currently allowed.
Another change states that if an incumbent–who presumably was elected as a Democrat or Republican–decides to run for reelection as an independent or third party candidate, they do not need to collect petition signatures at all.
In addition, the law would require that petition forms be issued by the State Elections Board, rather than by local counties. This will help ensure uniformity and consistency and reduce confusion. In 2010, when Mary Norwood sought to get on the ballot as an independent candidate for Chairperson of Fulton County, Chairman John Eaves complained that Norwood’s campaign had pre-printed the word “Fulton” on ballots instead of letting each voter write it in. A statewide form could help prevent such disputes in the future.
And among other more general election law changes, the bill would allow online voter registration.
The bill now heads to the full House where it would need to be voted upon within the next few days if it is going to make “crossover day,” which would allow for possible consideration by the State Senate and enactment this year.