BREAKING: Georgia Ballot Access Law Stricken for Presidential Candidates
(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.
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.
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.
Atlanta Progressive News held a Town Hall Meeting on ballot access in 2010, and published a primer on the issue the same year.