Georgia Election Law Survives Challenge

     ATLANTA (CN) – The Green Party of Georgia failed to show that Georgia’s election law unconstitutionally prevents its candidates from running for office, a federal judge ruled last week.
     The Green Party sued Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Secretary of State on May 25, 2012, claiming a requirement that third-party candidates to collect signatures from one percent of eligible voters to be able to run in a state election violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
     The party also alleged that the “State of Georgia makes it impossible for political bodies to alternatively qualify under the O.C.G.A. because the State does not tally the write-in votes accurately, leaving it up to the counties who usually do not tally write-in votes.”
     When it failed to prevail in Federal Court, the Green Party appealed to the 11th Circuit, which reversed and remanded the case back to U.S. District Judge Richard Story.
     Story had previously ruled that higher courts had upheld stricter requirements than those contained in the Georgia law; the 11th Circuit held Story erred by failing to apply the balancing test set forth in Anderson v. Celebrezze.
     The test requires that in determining the constitutionality of an election law, a court weight the asserted injury to the right to vote against the precise interests put forward as justifications for imposing the rule in the first place.
     On remand, Story write, “Plaintiffs must show that the challenges they face in accessing the ballot are attributable to the particular burdens imposed by Georgia’s petition requirements and are not simply a result of the generic difficulty inherent in gaining access to a ballot.”
     In the end, the judge said in a 34-page decision, “Plaintiffs have failed to carry that burden here.”
     Since Georgia’s election code was last updated in 1986, independent candidates Ross Perot (1992, 1996) and Pat Buchanan (2000) qualified to run for president. But a Georgia third party has not qualified a presidential candidate since 2000. The Green Party and Constitution Party most recently attempted to be included on the ballot for the 2012 presidential election.
     Other states, however, have succeeded in including third-party candidates on their ballots. Georgia was one of just four states that did not include Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader on the ballot in 2000. The Constitution Party has had candidates appear on ballots in 41 states.
     “As an alternative to petition procedure for independent candidates set forth in O.C.G.A., Georgia law provides that a registered political body may place a candidate on the ballot by nomination at its convention through one of two avenues,” the decision says. “First, a registered political body may file a petition for ballot access through convention with the Secretary of State. This petition must be signed by a number of registered voters equal to one percent of the voters who were registered and eligible to vote in the preceding general election.
     “Second, a political body may place a candidate on the ballot by nomination at its convention if the political body received votes equal to one percent of the total registered voters eligible to vote in that election. The Libertarian Party has accessed the ballot this way on various occasions,” Story wrote.
     But the Green Party and Constitution Party claim that “the State does not accurately tally write-in votes, hindering third-party or independent candidates from reaching the threshold of one percent of actual votes that would allow a political body “automatic access” under O.C.G.A.”
     Story responds by saying that while “Third-party and independent candidates play an important role in the voter’s exercise of her rights,” the role played by candidates of minor parties or political bodies “does not grant those candidates unfettered access to ballots.”
     Even taking the Anderson balancing test into consideration, Story said, “Plaintiffs’ diligence remains a genuine issue of material fact.”
     “Therefore the Court cannot conclude, as a matter of law, that Plaintiffs have been unconstitutionally barred from accessing the ballot by the operation of Georgia’s laws,” he wrote.
     Representatives from the Green Party and Constitution Party were unable to be reached for comment.

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