Minor Parties Sue Over Presidential Ballot Access in Georgia (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — On Friday, May 25, 2012, the Green Party of Georgia and the Constitution Party of Georgia filed a lawsuit in US District Court against the State of Georgia and Secretary of State Brian Kemp challenging the ballot access requirements for independent and minor party candidates to run candidates on ballots in Georgia for President of the US.
The current requirement in Georgia for statewide candidates such as US Presidential candidates is to collect petition signatures from one percent of the registered voters statewide who were registered and eligible to vote in the previous election, according to OCGA 21-2-110.
The current law was passed in 1986. Since 2000 when Pat Buchanan qualified in Georgia as an independent [nationally he was running as a Reform Party candidate], no other independent or minor party candidate has qualified for statewide office on a Georgia ballot by gathering petition signatures.
This does not include the Libertarian Party of Georgia, which has run statewide candidates, including Presidential nominees, since 1988. They perpetuate ballot access for themselves by receiving the votes of one percent of the registered voters in Georgia for any one of their statewide candidates.
This year, the Green Party of Georgia chose to allocate its delegates for Roseanne Barr to be the Green Party nominee for President. However, candidate Jill Stein claims that she has enough delegates to win the nomination at the upcoming national convention.
According to Bruce Dixon, spokesman for the Green Party of Georgia, the party is currently attempting to raise 20,000 dollars to help the Green Party’s Presidential nominee gain ballot access in Georgia. The party expects to make an effort to attempt to gain the required signatures this year.
Garland Favorito, a spokesman for the Constitution Party of Georgia, said that the national Constitution Party of the US had convened in April 2012 and selected former US Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) as their nominee.
Favorito said they were not planning to attempt to collect signatures for Goode this year. “It doesn’t seem worthwhile; they’re gonna throw them out no matter what,” Favorito said.
“We have not in Georgia, because we collected 65,000 signatures in 1996 and still couldn’t get the candidate on the ballot, because there were a lot of rejection. A lot of them were rejected due to a technicality, the petitioner being the notary in many cases, so they threw those out. We’ve had a lot of cases where write-in votes were not counted correctly,” Favorito said.
The Green and Constitution parties allege that Georgia’s statutory scheme violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution, and Elections Clause of Article I, Section 4, of the US Constitution.
“These signature requirements are in excess of those that satisfy constitutional standards and unduly infringe upon the constitutional rights of the Plaintiffs to participate in the electoral process,” the Complaint states.
Georgia’s requirement for independent and minor party candidates for statewide office used to be 2.5 percent.
In Bergland v. Harris (1985), the appellate court remanded the Libertarian Party of Georgia’s lawsuit back to the US District Court and suggested that Georgia’s then 2.5 percent petition requirement for statewide office might be too difficult. However, the legislature lowered the requirement to one percent in 1986, and no court ever ruled on whether the one percent requirement was too high.
In two other 11th Circuit cases, Wilson v. Firestone (1980) and Swanson v. Bennett (2007), the Courts have ruled that there is a logical reason for the requirements for US Presidential candidates to be lower than requirements for other candidates.
“It isn’t a matter of numbers, it’s a matter of how often it’s been used. It hasn’t been used in Georgia since 2000, it’s been twelve years,” Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, told APN.
The current case deals with different legal issues than other previous Georgia ballot access lawsuits such as Jenness v. Fortson and Coffield v. Handel, because this case focuses on Georgia’s ballot access requirements for independent and minor party Presidential candidates.
Those two previous cases dealt with Georgia’s requirements for non-statewide independent and minor party candidates such as candidates for US House, State House, State Senate, and others.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Faye Coffield, an independent candidate for Georgia’s fourth US Congressional district, filed a ballot access lawsuit after she failed to get on the ballot in 2006.
However, the court upheld Georgia’s ballot access laws in the Coffield case because, although Coffield had standing as an aspiring candidate, she did not provide evidence for how many other candidates had attempted to gain ballot access and failed.
Therefore, anyone with standing who wishes to provide such evidence to the Courts still has the opportunity to challenge Georgia’s ballot access requirements for non-statewide jurisdictions such as US Congressional Districts.
While the current lawsuit only deals with the statewide ballot access requirements, the Green Party of Georgia has not ruled out bringing separate litigation to deal with the non-statewide signatures requirement, which is five percent.
“We may or may not be a party to additional litigation depending on other factors,” Dixon said.
But a separate lawsuit may not be necessary to change Georgia’s entire set of ballot access laws. “The strategy is, when the minor parties and independents actually win something in court, it’s a signal to the Legislature they need to do something. Often they do more than they’re required to do,” Winger said.
Attorney Mike Raffauf is representing the two Plaintiffs. Raffauf has previously done work for former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA). McKinney is currently attempting to gain ballot access to run for Georgia’s fourth US Congressional District as a Green Party nominee.
This year, the Green Party of Georgia decided to endorse McKinney; as well as Denice Traina, a progressive candidate in the non-partisan race for Augusta-Richmond County Commission; and Kwabena Nkromo, who is attempting to gain ballot access in Georgia House District 57.
As previously reported by APN, Nkromo is a controversial former candidate for Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education who at one time emailed sex tapes involving himself and his girlfriend to all members of the City Council of Atlanta, out of revenge on the girlfriend.
An individual familiar with the matter told APN that the Party was aware of Nkromo’s vengeful behaviors in the past and had discussed them with him, but decided that Nkromo had apologized to the parties involved and that he wanted to contribute to helping to build the Green Party.
CORRECTIONS: Previously, this article stated that no minor party or independent candidate for President of the US had used Georgia’s petitioning process to gain statewide ballot access since 1986. This was wrong for two reasons. First, there had been several between 1986 and 2000, but have not been any since 2000 when Pat Buchanan ran. Second, this statement omitted the Libertarian Party of Georgia, which does run Presidential and other statewide candidates every year; however, they do so without having to gather petition signatures. They had a successful petition in 1988 and since then have perpetuated themselves onto the ballot each election by receiving at least one percent of the votes of registered voters in any statewide race.