Getting on ballot first challenge for metro Atlanta independents

Correction: The original story misstated the percentage of voters an independent candidate had to collect to appear on the ballot for a state legislative seat. That amount is 5 percent, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Original story: Luanne Taylor looked at Linda Davis’ notebook full of petition signatures with dismay.

Davis, an independent candidate for the Lithonia-based Georgia House District 92, had collected hundreds of signatures to get on the November general election ballot in a plain notebook, not on the petition forms required by the Secretary of State’s Office. 

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“Those aren’t going to count,” said Taylor, an independent candidate in House District 49. 

“Well, I’m just going to have to call each one of them and ask them to sign again,” said Davis, who had collected a phone number with each signature.

At a meet-and-greet Tuesday for independent candidates and voters, Taylor, Davis and others running for state office compared petitioning strategies. Taylor hands out a sprig of mint to people who sign her petition so they don’t forget they did. Demond Kennedy, running as a Libertarian in Henry County-based House District 90, bemoaned people’s unwillingness to open the door to a stranger with a clipboard, if they’re even home at all.

Collecting the signatures of 5 percent of a district’s electorate is the first hurdle that most independent candidates face, said Amanda Swafford, a co-chairwoman of Unite Atlanta and a former Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate. The political group, which organized Tuesday’s event, is designed to provide independent and third-party candidates the support and infrastructure they may otherwise lack because they aren’t members of the Democratic or Republican parties.

Swafford’s primary goal in running more independent candidates is to give metro Atlanta voters an increased choice at the polls. To do that, independent candidates need to get on the ballot, a quest Swafford and some of Unite Atlanta’s candidates see as a Catch-22.

“You can’t become legitimate until you’re on the ballot,” Swafford said, “but you can’t get on the ballot unless you’re legitimate.” 

Democrats and Republicans must also collect signatures in order to run. But for candidates such as Kennedy, who has identified as a Libertarian for eight years, the extra effort is worth not having to align themselves with parties they don’t entirely agree with.

“People ask me why I’m not running as a Republican or Democrat,” Kennedy said. “I say I can’t do it because they’ll try to make me one of them.”

For Taylor, her first run for public office is partly an exercise to simply see whether it’s feasible to get on the ballot. She needs 1,635 signatures by July 9. So far, she’s gotten 300.

“I want to see if it’s humanly possible for an individual to collect all these signatures,” Taylor said.

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