Georgia’s Ballot Access Case Advances to Trial, Judge Wants Evidence of Effort by Greens, Constitution Party (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — On May 19, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Story issued an order denying summary judgment in the case of Green Party of Georgia and Constitution Party of Georgia v. Brian Kemp, Georgia Secretary of State, setting stage for trial.
Georgia’s ballot access laws, or petition requirements, for statewide candidates–that is, one percent of statewide registered voters–as applied to U.S. Presidential candidates, are at issue in this case.
The Green Party sought for nominee, Jill Stein, to appear on the Georgia ballot as a Presidential candidate in 2012. The Constitution Party sought for former U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) to appear on the Georgia ballot in 2012 as well.
If the minor parties prevail, the one percent requirement would only be ruled unconstitutional as it applies to Presidential candidates; however, advocates believe that if the Legislature were to revisit ballot access laws, they would amend them in a more holistic manner.
Legislation in the 2015-2016 Legislative Session to reduce Georgia’s five percent, non-statewide petition requirement for minor parties and independents, to two percent, did not advance due to opposition by the Republican leadership.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, Judge Story had dismissed the case on July 17, 2012, only to be overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Eleventh District, on January 06, 2014.
There has not been much activity in the case since it returned to U.S. District Court.
The latest order applies the standard adopted by the U.S. Court of Appeals to Georgia’s ballot access requirements. The standard is known as the Anderson balancing approach, from a case called Anderson v. Celebrezze.
In applying the standard, the court concludes that there is conflicting information on the record, making it unclear as to whether Georgia’s ballot access laws are unconstitutional.
The Court notes that Georgia is one of only a few states where independent and minor party candidates have been unable to gain ballot access in U.S. Presidential Elections in recent years.
According to an affidavit by Linda Ford, Director of the Elections Division for the Secretary of State, only Ross Perot (Independent, 1992), Ross Perot (Reform Party, 1996), and Pat Buchanan (Independent, 2000) have gained ballot access pursuant to Georgia’s petition process for statewide candidates.
In addition, the Libertarian Party perpetuates itself onto the ballot each year, due to a separate provision that allows a party who received one percent of the vote in a statewide race to appear on the next statewide ballot.
The Plaintiffs claim that “Georgia is only one of two states where no independent candidate or previously unqualified party’s candidate has gained access to the ballot through statewide petition procedures from 2001 to 2012. The other is Indiana.”
“Additionally, Georgia is one of only four states where Ralph Nader–the Green Party’s candidate in 1996 and 2000, and an independent candidate in 2004 and 2008–never appeared on the ballot as a presidential candidates… The others are Indiana, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.”
However, the Court also accepts the State of Georgia’s argument that it has a state interest in keeping candidates off the ballot so that voters are not overwhelmed or confused by having too many choices.
To resolve the dispute, the court says it is interested in whether, as a factual matter, the Green Party and Constitution Party made a diligent effort to collect the required petition signatures, and thus Georgia’s laws are unduly restrictive; or, in the alternative, whether the Parties’ difficulties in gaining signatures merely reflect a lack of voter support.
“[T]he Court finds that the character of the asserted injury to the right to vote is significant, but that Plaintiffs have failed to carry their burden to show the Court that the alleged injury is of an appreciable magnitude,” the ruling states.
“Ralph Nader is an example of a third party candidate who achieved relatively widespread support across the nation. Mr. Nader’s failure to access the ballot in Georgia… could indicate that the operation of Georgia’s election code as a whole serves to unconstitutionally bar access to third party and independent candidates,” the ruling states.
“But the Court cannot reach that conclusion on the record presently before it. Plaintiffs provide no evidence to show what efforts that have undertaken to nominate their candidates in this state… Plaintiffs provide no evidence that would allow the Court to conclude they have been ‘reasonably diligent’ in seeking signatures.
“Plaintiff’s diligence remains a genuine issue of material fact,” the Court concludes.
Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, who is working with the Green and Constitution Parties, says he is working on a declaration regarding the unsuccessful efforts of independent and minor party candidates to gain ballot access in Georgia.
But Winger does not concede it is necessary to show diligence. Winger points to two Supreme Court of the U.S. cases where he says ballot access laws have been thrown out, and an additional case which was remanded, even though the candidate or party at issue did not even attempt to gather signatures.
UPDATE 1 and CORRECTIONS: This article previously stated that actress Roseanne Barr was the Green Party nominee; however, the nominee was Jill Stein. The article also stated that the Libertarian Party perpetuates its statewide ballot access by receiving at least ten percent of the statewide vote in one race; the threshold is actually one percent, not ten.