Judge’s ruling eases path for third-party candidates in Georgia

January 5, 2021 Atlanta: Voters exit after casting their ballots on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 at the Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta. Georgia’s long moment in the national spotlight culminated Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, when state voters cast their votes to determine which party would control the U.S. Senate. Georgia voters also voted to elect a member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates energy and utility rates and issues. The two most expensive Senate races in history saw more than $833 million been spent by the four campaigns and outside groups supporting them, blanketing the airwaves and stuffing mailboxes across the state. Much of that money has come from organizations with no direct connection to Georgia. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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January 5, 2021 Atlanta: Voters exit after casting their ballots on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 at the Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta. Georgia’s long moment in the national spotlight culminated Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, when state voters cast their votes to determine which party would control the U.S. Senate. Georgia voters also voted to elect a member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates energy and utility rates and issues. The two most expensive Senate races in history saw more than $833 million been spent by the four campaigns and outside groups supporting them, blanketing the airwaves and stuffing mailboxes across the state. Much of that money has come from organizations with no direct connection to Georgia. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Court lowers signature requirement to 1% of registered voters

A federal judge has reduced the number of signatures needed for Libertarians and other third-party candidates to get on the ballot for the U.S House and other elections in Georgia.

The ruling comes after no third-party House candidate in Georgia has ever collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot under a 1943 state law that required a petition signed by at least 5% of registered voters.

U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May on Friday ordered Georgia to lower its signature requirement to 1% of registered voters for third-party candidates running for nonstatewide offices, the same percentage of signatures needed for statewide candidates.

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

“The court determined that this remedy would alleviate the unconstitutional burden imposed upon plaintiffs, while safeguarding the state’s interest in preventing ballot crowding and frivolous candidacies,” May wrote.

Under May’s order, third-party candidates will need to submit 4,600 to 6,500 valid signatures — depending on the number of registered voters in the district — to run for Congress. That’s a decrease from more than 23,000 signatures previously required.

May had previously ruled in March that Georgia’s third-party signature requirements were “overbroad” and violated the First and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Her order on Friday permanently enjoined Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger from enforcing the state’s 5% signature requirement until the General Assembly enacts a permanent measure.

Attorneys for the state have said in court documents that they might appeal in advance of the 2022 election cycle.