Libertarians challenge GA ballot access law in federal court

Libertarian Party of Georgia

Georgia has long had insurmountable ballot access laws, but the Libertarian Party of Georgia and two potential LP congressional candidates have brought suit to challenge them in the U.S. Federal District Court in Atlanta. The lawsuit, filed on Nov. 21, challenges a state requirement that any political party receiving less than 20 percent of the votes for governor or 20 percent for president in the entire country must obtain notarized signatures from 5 percent of eligible voters in the district in order to place a congressional candidate on the ballot. This requirement has never been met, by any party.

The lawsuit against Georgia’s secretary of state asks for a declaratory judgement enjoining the secretary from enforcing Georgia ballot law, and including LP congressional nominees on the general election ballot. 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.

The suit points out:

  • No independent candidate for U.S. Representative from Georgia has ever qualified under the current law.
  • About 20,000 valid signatures are required for each district. District lines are irregular and split up counties into multiple voting jurisdictions, making it difficult for voters to know which district is theirs. As a result, an unusually large number of signatures must be collected to ensure that the final list contains enough valid signatures. This signature requirement is higher than any other state.
  • The secretary of state has delegated the validation process to counties with no validation standards, so each county makes up its own. That increases the need to collect even more signatures to make up for any additional unknown margin of error.
  • Collecting enough valid signatures using paid petitioners would cost around $2.5 million dollars. Democrats and Republicans, meanwhile, retain ballot access with no cost at all.
  • In addition to the signature requirement, a qualifying fee is assessed that would amount to $73,080 statewide. This fee is higher than in any other state.
  • Since the law was enacted in its present form, 27 candidates have announced their candidacies and then failed to obtain enough petition signatures. This includes an attempt by former congressional Rep. Cynthia McKinney, who wanted to run as a Green Party candidate.
  • As a result, 15 Republican and Democratic candidates have run unopposed from 2012 to 2016. That amounts to 36 percent of the state’s candidates for U.S. representative running unopposed during that period, the highest percentage of any state in the country.
  • Georgia is the only state with different petition signature requirements for statewide races and district races. Statewide races require signatures from only 1 percent of eligible voters, contrasted with 5 percent for district races. Numerous Libertarian Party candidates have run statewide. Four of them have received more than 30 percent of the vote, including Eric Hoskins, who garnered 33 percent of the votes for the Georgia Public Service Commission.

“The lack of a Libertarian Party option on the ballot is especially troublesome when one of the dinosaur parties fails to field a candidate or when neither the nominees of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party are particularly popular,” said Libertarian National Committee Executive Director Wes Benedict. “The 2016 presidential election comes to mind. A current example is the special election for senator in Alabama. Conservative voters in Alabama are faced with voting for a liberal Democrat they cannot support on policy and a Republican nominee tainted by allegations of sexual misconduct in his past. They can write in Libertarian Party candidate Ron Bishop, but a write-in campaign poses one more huge obstacle for voters who wish to vote for the candidate they really support. It’s time for Republicans and Democrats to let go of their political duopoly and let voters have a third choice.”

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