Federal Appeals Court Reinstates Georgia Ballot Access Case
(APN) ATLANTA — The Green Party of Georgia and the Constitution Party of Georgia have secured what is so far an important procedural victory in a federal lawsuit regarding Georgia’s oppressive petition requirements for Presidential candidates who are neither Democrats nor Republicans.
Neither party was able to secure enough petition signatures–one percent of statewide registered voters–to get their Presidential nominee on the ballot in 2012. For the Green Party, the nationwide nominee was Jill Stein; for the Constitution Party, the nominee was former US Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA).
The lawsuit was filed in federal court on May 25, 2012, in U.S. District Court, in the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta); and was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story.
On June 27, 2012, the State of Georgia and Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, represented by Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens’s Office, filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
Judge Story granted the motion to dismiss on July 17, 2012.
The plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration on July 24, 2012. However, as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the judge did not rule on this motion in time for the November 2012 election:
Judge Story finally denied the motion for reconsideration on March 20, 2013. Then, the plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
On Monday, January 06, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, noting that the case should not have been dismissed by Judge Story.
Judge Story had dismissed the case challenging the one percent requirement for Presidential candidates on the basis that–as previously reported by APN–prior court rulings have upheld Georgia’s five percent requirement for non-statewide races. Story had ruled that if five percent were allowable, then one percent must be allowable.
However, the plaintiffs argued, and the federal court agreed, that ballot access requirements are measured by a different standard for Presidential Elections because the interest of the State of Georgia does not weigh so heavily in Presidential Elections.
“A state’s interest in regulating a presidential election is less important than its interest in regulating other elections because the outcome of a presidential election ‘will be largely determined by voters beyond the State’s boundaries’ and ‘the pervasive national interest in the selection of candidates for national office . . . is greater than any interest of an individual State,’” the Court of Appeals wrote.
“Consequently, a ballot access restriction for presidential elections ‘requires a different balance’ than a restriction for state elections,” the Court of Appeals wrote.
The order is signed by Judges Gerald Tjoflat (a Ford appointee), Emmett Cox (a Reagan appointee), and Adelberto Jordan (an Obama appointee).
Mike Raffauf is the attorney representing both political parties.
The case now returns to the federal district court for a hearing on the merits, with clarification from the Court of Appeals that the lower court should apply a new balancing test to determine whether Georgia’s one percent requirement is too high.
Georgia has not had a minor party or independent candidate successfully petition to get on the ballot for President of the US since the year 2000, the only other US state besides Indiana to have that distinction, according to Ballot Access News.
That year, Pat Buchanan qualified in Georgia as an independent, although nationally he was running as a Reform Party candidate.
The Libertarian Party currently does not have to petition, as their statewide candidates are on the ballot under a separate provision.
“In American Party of Texas v. White… (1974), the U.S. Supreme Court specifically held that requiring petitioners to gather 1% of the actual voters to gain ballot access ‘falls within the outer boundaries of support the State may require before according political parties ballot position,’” the plaintiffs wrote in an earlier motion.
Georgia’s ballot access requirements for Presidential candidates, which is one percent of registered voters statewide in the last election, is therefore greater than the requirement at issue in American Party of Texas v. White, which was one percent of actual voters.
“This has happened before,” Richard Winger of Ballot Access News told APN regarding the Court of Appeals ruling.
“In 1984, the Libertarians filed a lawsuit saying it was too hard to get on the ballot as President [in Georgia]. The U.S. District Court threw it out. The Court of Appeals sent it back. There were no more court proceedings because the Legislature took the hint,” Winger said.
In 1986, the Legislature made two major changes to Georgia ballot access laws, lowering the petition requirement for all statewide races, including Presidential elections, from 2.5 percent to one percent.
They also “set up the procedure that says a party that gets one percent of the vote for a statewide race can stay on the ballot for statewide offices,” Winger said, referring to the provision that the Libertarian Party of Georgia has used for several years to keep their statewide candidates on the ballot.
Winger noted that because of Georgia’s population growth, the one percent requirement has become more burdensome, from 28,000 signatures in 1986, to about 50,000 today.
“Just getting a remand is frequently enough to get the Legislature to look at the law again, and that’s what we need in Georgia so badly. The evidence is really strong in this case,” Winger said.