ATLANTA (CN) — Third-party candidates for U.S. Representative in Georgia experience burdensome ballot-access restrictions, an attorney for the state's Libertarian Party told an 11th Circuit panel Friday.
Bryan Sells, who represents the Libertarian Party of Georgia and two aspiring U.S. House of Representatives candidates, argued that these restrictions are the most stringent in the nation, with an election-qualifying law that assigns different requirements for House candidates nominated by the two major political parties and third-party candidates.
The 11th Circuit first heard the appeal in May after Obama appointed, U.S. District Judge Leigh May upheld the law at issue in 2019.
The panel agreed to remand the case with instructions to consider Sell's and the other plaintiff’s First and Fourteenth Amendment claims challenging Georgia’s ballot access laws under the Anderson-Burdick framework, which allows for any voting rule or procedure to be subjected to judicial scrutiny.
Under the current law, third-party candidates must file a qualifying fee and gather the signatures of 5% of the number of registered voters in the district. Candidates nominated by the Democratic and Republican parties do not have to submit the nomination petition and automatically appear on the ballot.
"No third party candidate has appeared on the general election ballot since these restrictions were first enacted in 1943," said Sells to the judges.
The panel of U.S. Circuit Judges included Donald Trump appointee, Elizabeth Grant, Bill Clinton appointee Frank Hull and George W. Bush appointee Chief Judge William Pryor.
"Have the signature requirements become more difficult?" asked U.S. Circuit Judge Grant.
"They require more signatures than any other state in the U.S.," responded Sells.
Sells also argues in his brief, that Georgia’s qualifying fees are higher than any other state in the nation.
The brief states, "To have a full-slate of nominees for the office of U.S. Representative appear on the general-election ballot, the party would have to pay $73,080 in qualifying fees and submit nominating petitions containing at least 321,713 valid signatures."
"No one diligent has tried," said U.S. Circuit Judge Pryor. "The signature requirement has always been the same. I don't know why it is suddenly unconstitutional."
"Since 2002 alone, at least 20 independent and political-body candidates for U.S. Representative have made a genuine effort to get on the ballot but were unable to qualify," states Sell's brief.
It also adds that in Georgia, petition circulators may not lawfully solicit signatures on private property without the owner's permission, including areas such as grocery stores and shopping malls.
"The candidates have to show diligence," rebutted Assistant Attorney General Charlene McGowan, representing the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. "The state has well established interest that candidates must have support from voters for their name to be put on the ballot."
McGowan's brief states, "It is not 'invidious discrimination' that runs afoul of the Equal Protection clause to require Libertarian candidates to demonstrate that they have voter support in the congressional district in which they seek to run."
She argued to the court that Georgia law has very few restrictions, pointing to the six month period aspiring candidates have to collect signatures and the alternative option to run as a write-in by filing in a notice.
U.S. Circuit Judge Hull asked McGowan why the the Secretary of State’s office rejected more than half of a candidate's 20,000 signatures in 2002, as exemplified in Sell's brief. "How is that not reasonable diligence?"
According to Sell's brief a redistricting process that year had reduced the time available for petitioning, but McGowan argued, "They should have utilized more time, hired more staff. 1st parties have to sometimes spend millions of dollars just to get on the primaries."
Her brief refers to Jenness v. Fortson, a 1971 Supreme Court decision that upheld essentially the same petition requirements, stating that the ballot access laws "advance the State’s interest in “avoiding confusion, deception, and even frustration of the democratic process at the general election.”
The judges did not indicate when they will reach a decision in the case.
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