ATLANTA (CN) — The Libertarian Party of Georgia claims in court the state's ballot-access laws are unlawfully cumbersome and were intentionally designed to prevent third-party candidates from successfully running for federal office.
The plaintiff party claims that since Georgia's current ballot-access restrictions were enacted in 1943, no third-party candidate has ever been able to qualify as a candidate for Congress.
Further, it says, no nominee from the Libertarian Party has ever appeared on Georgia's general-election ballot.
In a federal complaint filed Nov. 21 in Atlanta, the party says this is due to draconian ballot-access laws that are unconstitutional on their face.
According to the complaint filed by Bryan Sells of Atlanta, Georgia's current ballot-access statutes unfairly discriminate against candidates who are not part of what the state defines as a "political party."
The state's voting laws divide candidates for public office into three categories: candidates nominated by a political party; candidates nominated by a political body; and independent candidates.
"A 'political party' is any political organization whose nominee received at least 20 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial or presidential election," the complaint explains. "The only political parties that meet the current definition of 'political party' under Georgia law are the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Georgia Republican Party."
Candidates who are nominated by political bodies or independent candidates must abide by different ballot-access rules than candidates who are nominated by a political party.
Under Georgia law, the Libertarian Party is a political body. Therefore, any candidate it nominates for the office of U.S. Representative must submit a notice of candidacy, a qualifying fee and a nomination petition signed by five percent of the number of registered voters eligible to vote for that office in the last election.
Since Georgia had 5.4 million active registered voters as of the 2016 general election, the Libertarian Party would need to gather "at least 272,610 valid signatures" to run a full slate of candidates for Congress, the party says.
According to the complaint, Georgia's signature requirements are the most stringent in the nation.
"The state that required the next-highest number of signatures for a third-party to run a full slate of candidates for U.S. Representative [in 2016] was Illinois, which required approximately 178,400 valid signatures," the party says.
"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," the complaint says.
The party alleges that even those candidates who submit the correct number of signatures are doomed to fail.
When a candidate finally submits a nomination petition, the Secretary of State sends a copy of the petition to county election officials for signature verification. "The Secretary provides no instructions on how to go about the verification process, nor any guidance on what the law requires for a signature to be considered valid," the complaint says.
As a result, many valid signatures are rejected.
"In 2016, for example, Rocky De La Fuente submitted approximately 15,000 signatures on a nomination petition in an attempt to qualify for the general-election ballot as an independent candidate for President. He used professional, experienced petition circulators to gather his signatures. The Secretary verified only 2,964 signatures—a validation rate of approximately 20 percent," the complaint says.
This "inconsistent and error-prone" process forces independent and political-body candidates for U.S. Representative to gather far more signatures than the law ostensibly 'requires,'" the party says.
The state's laws do not require candidates nominated by a political party to submit a nomination petition. After a political party chooses its nominees via partisan primary, the nominee automatically appears on the ballot for any statewide or district office.
Money is also a major issue. Since the qualifying fee to run for Congress is three percent of the annual salary, the Libertarian Party is required to pay $5,220 per candidate.
To run a full slate of candidates for Congress in 2018, the party would be required to pay a total of $73,080 in qualifying fees alone, the complaint says.
The party says "most other states do not require third-party candidates for U.S. Representative who qualify for the general-election ballot by petition to pay a qualifying fee at all."
It goes on to say that even among states which do have a qualifying fee, Georgia's fees are the highest.
"Georgia's current ballot-access laws have deterred other potential independent and political-body candidates from even attempting to qualify for the general-election ballot," the complaint says.
Despite "substantial support among Georgia's electorate," the Libertarian Party argues that the state's ballot-access laws effectively prevent it from nominating candidates for office.
The party says that it has had congressional candidates appear on the ballot in every state in the nation except Georgia.
Candice Broce, spokeswoman for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said, “We are aware of the lawsuit, and our legal team is currently reviewing the plaintiffs’ claims.”
The Libertarian Party of Georgia seeks a declaration affirming that Georgia's ballot-access laws are unconstitutional. The party also seeks injunctive relief that will enable its candidates to run for Congress beginning with next year's election.
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