Libertarians continue to fight Georgia’s restrictive ballot laws

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The Georgia Libertarian Party is not backing down from its legal fight against Georgia’s ballot access law.

The party and other plaintiffs in a case against the state have appealed a federal judge’s ruling to uphold current election qualifying law for third-party candidates.

The law requires U.S. House candidates who are not Democratic or Republican to file a petition with signatures from 5 percent of the voting population to appear on the ballot. There are nearly 7 million registered voters in Georgia and 14 congressional districts. The U.S. District Judge Leigh May ruled in favor of the state being able to maintain the restrictions. Members of the Libertarian Party, however, say the law violates the First and Fourteen Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“Georgia’s ballot barriers are so strict that no independent or third-party candidates have qualified for U.S. House general elections since their passage in 1943,” said Bryan Sells, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Georgia has the strictest ballot regulations in the nation, ballot access expert Richard Winger told Politifact. There are similar restrictions for countywide and statewide races.

To get on the ballot for state government position, a third party candidate must collect signatures from 1 percent of the voting population. County seats also require 5 percent of signatures.

The law limits the playing field for candidates and options for voters, Sells said. 

About 40 percent of state lawmakers had challengers in the 2018 elections. 

Two independent candidates made it on the ballot for congressional seats during the primary election, but they didn’t make the cut for the final election. Half of the Congressional districts had write-in votes from the Libertarian Party and Independents.

“Voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the two major parties, but those same parties block all competitors. Georgia’s voters deserve more options when they go to vote,” Sells said.

House Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick, D–Lithonia, attempted to change the law during the 2019 legislative session.

Kendrick filed House Bill 19, which would have required candidates in any election to get 200 signatures to appear on the ballot. The bill stalled in the House after its second reading in February.

The Supreme Court has found legal grounds to overturn similar restrictions in Illinois.

The court ruled in 1979 that a law, which required candidates to obtain more signatures to run for a city seat than a statewide seat, violated equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. A second case in 1990 successfully challenged the same law.

“We welcome the opportunity to move this case forward,” said Martin Cowen, plaintiff and 2018 Libertarian candidate for Congressional District 13. “Recent rulings in the 11th Circuit and the Supreme Court give us reason to be optimistic about our success on appeal.”

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