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Court upholds ruling for third-party presidential candidates in Ga.

The federal appeals court in Atlanta on Wednesday upheld a ruling issued last year that found a portion of Georgia’s ballot access laws violated the U.S. Constitution.

The one-sentence ruling, by a unanimous three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, adopted the “well-reasoned opinion” issued last March by U.S. District Judge Richard Story in Atlanta. Story had significantly lowered the number of signatures required for third-party candidates to petition to get on Georgia’s presidential ballot — from tens of thousands to 7,500.

The 11th Circuit’s ruling was notable in that it was issued less than a week after it heard arguments on the case – an exceptionally quick turnaround for a ruling by the busy court that oversees cases out of Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

“I think it’s a great decision,” said Laughlin McDonald, director-emeritus of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “The state put up no evidence whatsoever as to voter confusion or ballot overcrowding.”

A spokeswoman for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, in response to the ruling, said, “we respectfully disagree with the decision, and we are currently reviewing our options for appeal.” If the state appealed, it would likely ask the entire 11-member 11th Circuit court to review the decision.

Both the Georgia Constitution Party and the Georgia Green Party sued the state in 2012 over rules that they said effectively blocked most third-party candidates from getting onto the presidential ballot because the bar was set artificially high. In the year they sued, they argued they would have had to collect at least 50,334 signatures to meet the state’s then-standard.

State officials, in fighting the suit, had argued that the parties should have to show what Story called “a modicum of support.” They said that lower signature requirements could result in voter confusion and a crowded presidential ballot.

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