Libertarian Party Sues over Georgia Ballot Petition Requirements for U.S. House
(APN) ATLANTA — Georgia’s antiquated and oppressive ballot access laws–which set highly burdensome petition requirements for independent and minor party ballot candidates to get on the ballot in Georgia–are facing a legal challenge again, as advocates for voter choice continue to chip away at Georgia’s two party monopoly.
While minor party and independent candidates continue to appeal to voters nationwide, few such candidates ever get on the ballot in Georgia.
On November 21, 2017, the Libertarian Party of Georgia and several Georgia voters filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Brian Kemp, challenging Georgia’s petition requirements for U.S. House for “political body” or third party candidates.
The case argues that the state’s current law violates both the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Equal Protection Clause.
Currently, Georgia’s election code sets forth that “political body” and independent candidates for non-statewide positions such as U.S. House District, must obtain the signatures of five percent of the voters eligible to vote in the last election for that position.
For Georgia’s Congressional Districts, that amounts to about 20,000 per district. To run in the Fourth District in 2018, an independent or minor party candidate would need 20,364 valid signatures; in the Fifth, 22,092; in the Sixth, 21,016.
The lawsuit against asks for a declaratory judgement enjoining Secretary Kemp from enforcing the Georgia ballot access law.
LAWSUIT FOLLOWS 2016 LEGAL VICTORY FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
In 2016, the federal courts struck down Georgia’s ballot access law as applied to Presidential candidates. As a statewide race, one percent of the signatures of the registered voters in the last similar election were required for U.S. President in Georgia, for independent and minor party candidates.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story found that Georgia’s requirement for U.S. Presidential candidates was outside of the bounds of what is justifiable; and the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed.
Judge Story reduced the signature requirement for U.S. President to 7,500. Because the Georgia Legislature failed to amend the election code to remove the stricken law, the 7,500 signature requirement chosen by Judge Story stands for U.S. President.
The Georgia Republican and Democratic Parties enjoy a near-monopoly over most elected positions in Georgia; and the Legislature has not had much desire to revisit the ballot access issue.
WHAT MAKES THIS CASE DIFFERENT FROM PRIOR LITIGATION
The last case to challenge Georgia’s ballot access law for U.S. House candidates was brought by Faye Coffield, a DeKalb County activist who sought to run as an independent against U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) in Georgia’s Fourth Congressional District.
In that case, Coffield was able to show standing for having tried, unsuccessfully, to gather some 15,000 signatures. To that extent, Coffield got further than prior Georgia ballot access plaintiffs.
However, the courts federal ruled that, even though Coffield had proven that the law was burdensome and prohibitive to her, that she had not shown how many other independent or minor party candidates had also tried and failed.
So, this was basically the U.S. Court of Appeals giving ballot access advocates their homework assignment. That was eight years ago. The Libertarian Party finally decided to do the homework.
A new section of factual allegations in the Complaint is, therefore critical to the case.
Prior unsuccessful efforts to gain ballot access for U.S. House in Georgia include the following campaigns: Cynthia McKinney (2012); Eugene Moon (2010); Faye Coffield (2008); Dr. Jim Sendelbach (2008); Veterans Party of America (2006, 2004); Loren Collins (2006); Jay Fisher (2006); Chip Shirley (2006); Richard Clarke (2006); Steven Muhammad (2004); Andy Altizer (2004); Chris Borcik (2004); Silvia Delamar (2004); Caine Cortellino (2004); Malcom Rogers (2004); Philip Bradley (2004); Joyce Griggs (2002); Ryan Anthony Cancio (2002); Carol Ann Rand (2002); Al Herman (2002); Chad Elwartowski (2002); Daniel Kozarich (2002); Brian Brown (2002); Wayne Parker (2002); Ron Smith (2002); and Maceo D. Dixon (1982).
This is not an exhaustive list, but is based on available records. The discovery process may lead to uncovering additional failed campaigns from history.
According to the lawsuit: “No candidate for U.S. Representative nominated by a political body has ever satisfied the five-percent signature requirement to appear on Georgia’s general-election ballot.”
“No independent candidate for U.S. Representative has satisfied the five-percent signature requirement to appear on Georgia’s general-election ballot since 1964, when Milton Lent qualified to be an independent candidate in Georgia’s First Congressional District,” the lawsuit states.
Only one independent candidate, former State Rep. Billy McKinney, appeared on the ballot for U.S. House in Georgia, since 1964. However, at that time, the petition requirements did not apply because of a redistricting lawsuit that was pending.
CURRENT STATUS OF LAWSUIT
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court of North Georgia, and the case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May.
Secretary Kemp, through Attorney General Chris Carr, filed a partial Motion to Dismiss on December 28, 2017.
This Motion to Dismiss only seeks to dismiss one of the remedies sought by the Plaintiffs, which is nominal damages. It does not seek to dismiss the remaining counts.
The State argues that the nominal damages claim is barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of the U.S., which deals with state sovereignty.
The State of Georgia still has not filed an Answer to the Complaint.
The Plaintiffs filed a Response to Kemp’s Motion on January 01, 2017. Kemp responded again on January 08.
It is now up to Judge May to rule on the partial motion to dismiss, so the case can again move forward.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2018)