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Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Scandal of Ballot Access in Georgia

Many of you have read about my consideration to run against Cynthia McKinney for Congress. As I investigated this idea, I came across one specific obstacle to making this a reality. And that is the issue of ballot access, particularly here in Georgia.

In considering whether or not to run against McKinney, I realized that the best opportunity to beat her would be for a strong Independent candidate to run against, without the baggage that running as a Republican would entail. (On top of the fact that I have plenty of problems with the Republican party and don't see that they are much different from Democrats).

So I started investigating how one gets on the ballot here in Georgia. I found plenty of information on how to run as a Republican or Democrat. In order to get on the primary ballot for either party, one simply has to pay a filing fee of about $4,800 for a Congressional seat race. Nothing else is required. Not a single signature.

However, the situation is quite different for an Independent to get on the ballot. Not only does one have to pay the same filing fee but one has to gather signatures. And lots of them.

In order to get on the ballot, a candidate must collect signature equal to 5% of the amount of votes cast in the district during the previous election. In my district, this would amount to close to 15,000 signatures. But in reality, one would have to gather many many more signatures to ensure having enough valid signatures. The number that a few political consultants mentioned to me was somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 signatures.

This is outrageous. And it is pretty much an impossible hurdle to overcome. Since 1943, when the current law was passed, not a single Independent has gotten on the ballot for a Congressional race in the state of Georgia.

Let me put this in perspective and compare Georgia to the rest of the country. The barrier requiring signed petitions equaling at least 5% of previous votes cast is ten times higher than the average requirements in all states. The barrier is about 50% higher than that of the next most restrictive state (Illinois) and 250% higher than the third worst states. According to Ballot Access News, Georgia has the worst ballot access law in the country.

As usual, I am not willing to sit back and write about this. I've decided to do something about it. I have spent the past few weeks researching this issue and talking to many people about it. My first call was to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News in California. Richard is the foremost expert on ballot access laws in the country and was a pleasure to speak with. Richard informed me that various bills had been introduced in the Georgia Legislature over the years but they have never had any success. Richard's recommendations were that I start talking to legislators in Georgia and use my blog to publicize this problem.

So with a bit more research I discovered that indeed there had been a bill introduced into this year's session of the Georgia Legislature. HB 927 would amend the current law to require only 2% of the previous voters to sign a petition; not great but a step in the right direction. Unfortunately it appeared that this bill had gone nowhere.

Over the past two weeks, I have tried to contact the sponsors of this bill. I am pleased that two of the sponsors have spoken with me about this issue. I had a very nice chat with State Representative Ron Forster who told me that this bill did not make it through the Government Affairs committee.

Additionally, I had an even longer talk with State Representative Bobby Franklin. Bobby was very supportive of my efforts and suggested that the best way to move this legislation through would be to elicit the support of the Speaker of the House.

My goal now is to have a meeting with the Speaker of the House, Glenn Richardson to discuss this legislation. I have left one message with his office and was told that Glenn is very busy because this is an election year. I can understand how busy Mr. Richardson must get, but I'm not very good and taking no for an answer.

I do want to be very clear about what an important issue this is. Georgia has essentially legislated Independents and most third parties out of the political process. The citizens of Georgia have very little choice when voting and this needs to change. Please help me publicize this issue as I push for voter choice here in Georgia.

Update: I thought I would include the full text of a very good comment from Loren Collins on this topic.

It's not "close to 15,000" signatures. When I inquired with the Secretary of State's office, the response was that exactly 16,013 valid signatures are required.

The petition forms provided by their office (as opposed to the petitions I drew up) have room for 15 signatures per page. Even if every signature is a good one, that's over 1067 pages of signatures.

And every one of those 1067 pages has to be notarized in person. A ridiculous amount of notarizing, and a definite disincentive to anyone willing and able to gather a few signatures in their spare time.

By comparison, Sunny Warren only got 5875 votes in the 2000 Republican primary. And Cynthia Van Auken won the 2002 Republican primary with a mere 2169 votes. How an independent is supposed to get 16,000 signatures when one of the major parties can't even garner that much support is unacceptable.

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