BREAKING: Georgia Ballot Access Law Stricken for Presidential Candidates

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green party and constitution party(APN) ATLANTA — Georgia’s restrictive ballot access requirement that independent and political body [minor party] candidates for President of the U.S. gather the signatures of one percent of registered Georgia voters, in order to appear on the ballot in Georgia, has been struck down by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story, Atlanta Progressive News learned.

 

Secretary of State Brian Kemp is enjoined from enforcing the provision, according to a copy of the March 17, 2016, eighty-page ruling obtained by Atlanta Progressive News from the federal PACER database.

 

Judge Story found that Georgia’s ballot access laws, as applied to Presidential candidates, unconstitutionally violate citizens’ federal First and Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights to run for office, and to vote for candidates of their choosing.

 

In addition to striking down the existing one percent petition requirement, Judge Story used the court’s equitable powers to fashion an interim petition requirement of 7,500 signatures until the Georgia Legislature can revise the law.

 

The Green Party of Georgia and the Constitution Party of Georgia have a good opportunity to get their respective candidates on the ballot this year.  Jill Stein appears likely to be the Green Party nominee this year.

 

If either party gets a Presidential candidate on the Georgia ballot this year, and if that candidate receives more than one percent of the statewide vote for President, then the party will gain access to run statewide candidates in 2018 without having to collect signatures, using another provision of the election code.  [The Libertarian Party of Georgia has perpetuated its statewide ballot access in this manner for several years.]

 

Atlanta Progressive News has been exclusively following this lawsuit in Georgia, since it was filed in 2012.

 

http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/2015/06/09/georgias-ballot-access-case-advances-to-trial-judge-wants-evidence-of-effort-by-greens-constitution-party/

 

http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/2014/06/01/georgia-presidential-ballot-access-case-returns-to-district-court/

 

http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/2014/01/08/federal-appeals-court-reinstates-georgia-ballot-access-case/

 

http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/2012/09/09/georgia-presidential-ballot-access-case-stalls-in-federal-court-update-1/

 

http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/2012/06/09/minor-parties-sue-over-presidential-ballot-access-in-georgia-update-1/

 

Instrumental to the case was the testimony of Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, a national expert on ballot access issues, who the State of Georgia flew out from California to testify.

 

The ruling is significant for several reasons, including the fact that it is one of only about a dozen times that a federal court has struck down a petition requirement, Winger told APN.

 

This is also the first time that a one percent requirement for Presidential candidates has been struck down specifically, Winger said – such that we now know that a Constitutionally permissible requirement could be no higher than that.

 

Judge Story also applied strict scrutiny, finding that the law would be struck down even if a more deferential standard of scrutiny had been used.

 

In an earlier ruling, Judge Story indicated that he would be interested in the question of whether the Green and Constitution parties had made a substantial effort to try to gather the required signatures.

 

The plaintiffs appear to have convinced Judge Story that they did make a good faith effort, but that the requirements are too burdensome and downright prohibitive.  To the extent that the parties’ efforts have fizzled in recent years, Judge Story was convinced the parties had suffered from “petition fatigue.”

 

No independent or political body candidate for President has gained access to the ballot in Georgia since the year 2000.

 

For nearly two decades, while Green Party candidates such as Ralph Nader, David Cobb, and Jill Stein have appeared on the ballot in nearly every U.S. state, no Green Party candidate has appeared on the ballot in Georgia.

 

Judge Story also found the State of Georgia had failed to articulate an argument for the State’s interest in keeping candidates off the ballot, although other federal rulings have referred to a need to prevent voter confusion.

 

On this point, the court notes that Presidential Primary ballots are often packed with candidates, and without incident.

 

There have been a couple efforts to reduce Georgia’s ballot access requirements in the Legislature in recent years, but both have failed.

 

In 2012, HB 949, legislation to reduce the non-statewide candidate requirement [i.e., for jurisdictions such as State House and County Commission Districts]–from five percent of registered voters in the last election, to five percent of actual voters in the last election–failed, even though the change had been recommended by a panel created by Secretary Kemp.

 

Even if it had been enacted, such a change would not have addressed the one percent requirement for statewide candidates such as Presidential candidates.

 

http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/2012/02/19/georgia-third-party-ballot-access-bill-passes-house-committee/

 

In 2015, State Rep. John Pezold (R-Fortson) introduced HB 58, which would have reduced the non-statewide requirement from five percent to two percent, while increasing the statewide requirement from one to two percent.  The bill did not receive a committee hearing.

 

Incidentally, if enacted, this legislation would have made the statewide requirement, which was already unconstitutional, even more burdensome.

 

http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/2015/02/08/bill-would-reduce-minor-party-petition-requirements-to-two-percent/

 

Atlanta Progressive News held a Town Hall Meeting on ballot access in 2010, and published a primer on the issue the same year.

 

http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/2010/10/04/ballot-access-laws-in-georgia-an-overview/

 

http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/2010/08/24/apn-to-host-2nd-town-hall-on-ballot-access-for-third-party-independent-candidates/

 

(END/2016)

6 comments

  • Cynthia McKinney

    The lawsuit was organized and initiated by me as a part of my doctoral studies. The initial payment was made by Roseanne Barr who was running for President in 2012 and committed to ballot access. Mike Raffauf, my and the Barr campaign’s attorney, did the initial filing. Georgia Green Party members used a Tennessee decision to bolster their longstanding claim of the onerous effect of Georgia’s ballot access laws for political parties other than Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians. The Green Party allied with the Constitution Party for this success. Hugh Esco, Richard Winger, Laughlin McDonald, Garland Favorito, Ricardo Davis, and others helped to achieve this victory. Judge Story failed to act for years in an effort to delay justice. Justice delayed is justice denied. However, the arc of the moral universe may be long, but it bends toward justice.

  • My statement to the AP a few minutes ago:

    “Judge Story’s ruling is a first step toward leveling the playing field so that Georgians can select the candidate of their choice,” State Chairman Ricardo Davis noted. “When my father’s generation worked to advance civil rights for African-Americans they fought not just for the right to vote but also getting their candidates on the ballot, because the former was useless without the latter.”

    I want to echo Cynthia’s thanks to the team of Hugh Esco, Richard Winger, Laughlin McDonald, Garland Favorito, and Mike Raffauf who where part of this fight. I also want to acknowledge the work of those who have been fighting this in Georgia over the long haul — from the plaintiffs in the 1996 lawsuit representing alternative political parties denied access to the ballot through the perfidy of the Secretary of State’s office, to the Libertarian Party of Georgia for their repeated legal challenges against ballot access law, and the stakeholders of the former Voter Choice Coalition who fought the fight through the early 2000’s.

    Let us continue to work toward to the day when our children can vote for an alternative to the two-party duopoly because equal access to the ballot has been established down to the municipal level.

  • So, how does this help a candidate that doesn’t decide to run until after the Dems and Repubs have selected their candidate. With it still up in the air, can someone still get on the ballot for 2016 if the two main nominations are not to their liking? Is there sufficient time after their conventions to still get on the ballot?

  • Scot, yes and no. A few states have early filing deadlines, but some of these have been challenged in the courts by previous candidates and the Supreme Court has ruled them unconstitutional. Any filing deadline before the conventions would stand a good chance of being shot down by the courts. The only problem is getting the case through the courts before the election.

    From what I’ve read most states have a “sore loser” law which prohibits someone who lost a party primary from appearing on the ballot. The thing is that these laws vary from state to state. 33 states have precedent saying they don’t apply to presidential races, while some allow a person to run as an independent but not for another party, some allow a person to run for another party but not as an independent, and some will allow the person to run as a write in candidate. Also, if the requirement is that the person have lost that state’s primary, that would be helpful to let’s say someone like Trump as he won most of the primaries and a plurality of the delegates, yet may still be denied the nomination.

    Ohio, Texas, and South Dakota appear to be the only states enforcing “sore loser” laws on presidential races, but those could be challenged in the courts. The state courts in Ohio has upheld their law in the past, but that was for state/local races. A presidential race would go to federal courts, which have in the past not been as favorable to such laws. If upheld, not being on the ballot in those three states (particularly Texas) could present a steep hill to climb for any right-leaning candidate (e.g. Trump).

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