Court restores signature rules that hinder Ga. third-party candidates

The Elbert Parr Tuttle Courthouse in Atlanta, home to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (Photo: uscourts.gov.)

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The Elbert Parr Tuttle Courthouse in Atlanta, home to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (Photo: uscourts.gov.)

11th Circuit reverses ruling lowering Georgia signature requirements

A federal appeals court reinstated Georgia’s steep requirements for third-party candidates to get on the ballot Wednesday, a hurdle that has prevented anyone other than Republicans and Democrats from running for the U.S. House for decades.

No third-party candidate for the U.S. House has ever collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot under a 1943 state law that requires a petition signed by at least 5% of registered voters.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling preserved the signature requirements, finding that they didn’t violate voting rights and freedom of association rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The decision reverses a judge’s order that had reduced the number of signatures needed for candidates from Libertarian, Green and other political parties to run for office.

U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May had lowered the signature requirement to 1% of registered voters for candidates running for nonstatewide office, the same percentage of signatures needed for statewide candidates. May wrote in her September order that the 5% signature requirements created an “unconstitutional burden.”

Candidates nominated by the Republican and Democratic parties automatically appear on the ballot.

The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit unanimously reversed May’s order based on an appeal by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The decision was written by U.S. Circuit Judge Britt Grant, a former Georgia Supreme Court justice, and joined by U.S. Circuit Judges William Pryor and Frank Hull.