Over the course of the last election cycle, I spent a lot time complaining about the need for ballot access reform. Georgia is currently rated 50th (that’s worst, for those of you playing at home) in the nation for ballot access for third-party candidates, or “independents” since our state only “recognizes” two political parties under election law. “Rogue candidates.” The rebels without a cause. What it means to be recognized as a political party is also defined by state law.
Georgia currently requires these candidates to obtain signatures from 5% of prospective voters. If you’re running for Congress, that’s about 18,000 signatures – and no third-party has been on a general election Congressional ticket since 1943. Whether you’re running for county commission or Governor, you have 180 days to collect the signatures and then turn them in accordance with the qualifying period outlined specifically for independent candidates. This mess unfolded publicly for both Jeff Amason in House District 21(who obtained far more than 5%) and candidates like Bill Bozarth in Atlanta during the last general election. There is no doubt the process is a bureaucratic, unequal mess.
And we’ve sort of tried. During the 2011-12 legislation session, Secretary of State Brian Kemp recommended by way of Rep. Mark Hamilton and HB 949, along with many other ballot access reform initiatives, a reduced number of signatures required for third-party candidates. Not perfect, but a step in the right direction. The legislature denied this and passed almost every other ballot reform measure in HB 899.
Support for fewer barriers to entry goes back further than that, though. A similar bill was introduced by the late Rep. Bobby Franklin and, wait for it,…David Ralston, pre-speakership days. In fact, Ralston was the first signer on HB 927 in the 2005-2006 legislative session. The bill, which is worded in so many ways that I adore, states the following:
Consistent petition standards for all public offices. What a novel thought. The legislation reduced the number of signatures required to 2% of voters based on numbers from the last election. While this legislation is contradictory in and of itself, seeing as though ‘consistent’ would imply that everyone, even “Republicans” and “Democrats” are subjected to the same rules, the mere introduction of the legislation indicates that we have a problem. In September, 58% of Americans favored third parties. It’s time to stop ignoring this issue.
Whether legislation should eliminate signatures for an ‘unrecognized’ party, or we stop using parties on the ballot (Georgia Washington didn’t like them!), or we start messing around with the qualifying fees as a barrier to entry is still up for debate. One thing is for sure: no candidate should have to sue the state to be on the ballot. That’s not a government run by The People and Georgia needs to do better. Perhaps we can shoot for 49th. Regardless of whether you will ever vote for a third-party or not, the inequity based on political affiliation is resounding.
What legislation will actually look like if it comes about in the upcoming session -if it even does- is still to be determined. Rumor has it that legislation will indeed be introduced, perhaps by Rep. John Pezold (R-Columbus). But you know what they say about rumors: Only good ones are spiced with truth.