Suit challenges Georgia's ballot access laws

Two political parties have sued the state of Georgia in federal court, saying the state's ballot access laws violate the U.S. Constitution.

The Green and Constitution parties say state law that requires their candidates to gather thousands of signatures to get on the presidential ballot is unconstitutional. The suit names the state and Secretary of State Brian Kemp as defendants.

"There are several different clauses in the Constitution we feel are being violated," said Garland Favorito, elections director for the Georgia Constitution Party. "You should have free and fair elections. These parties are on the ballot in 30 and 40 states every presidential election. Why can’t get they get on the ballot in Georgia?"

A spokesman for Kemp, the state's chief elections officer, would not comment about the suit itself but defended the state's methods.

“Georgia’s ballot access laws have been challenged in the past, and the courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have consistently upheld Georgia’s nominating petition requirements as constitutional," Kemp spokesman Tim Fleming said.

State law says that a party's candidates are not automatically placed on the ballot unless the party in the previous general election fielded a statewide candidate who received votes equal to at least 1 percent of the total registered voters in the state. If that hasn't happened, a candidate must collect signatures from at least 1 percent of the total registered voters who were eligible to vote in the previous election. This year, that would require a candidate to collect more than 51,989 signatures to gain to appear on the ballot.

According to the suit, no minor party has qualified a candidate for the statewide ballot in Georgia since 2000. The case only involves the presidential race, meaning Cynthia McKinney's announced bid for the Green Party nomination for U.S. Congress would not be affected. McKinney, a former Democratic congresswoman, is seeking to reclaim her former seat.

The suit accuses the state of violating the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says no person or group can be denied legal rights granted to others in similar circumstances.

It is not unusual for a state to require signatures for independent candidates or those nominated by third parties. But Georgia has been labeled as having the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country by Ballot Access News, an independent chronicler of election law in the states.

Lawmakers appeared willing to consider the problem during this past legislative session, but a bill by the Legislature's only independent -- Rep. Rusty Kidd of Milledgeville -- did not pass. Kemp's own special advisory committee on election law reform suggested easing the petition restrictions, but the General Assembly would have to make the changes.