Libertarian appeal to swing voters could force Georgia elections to runoffs

But getting on the ballot isn’t easy for many Libertarians
Early voters walk into Cherokee County Elections Office on Monday, May 16, 2022. (Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Early voters walk into Cherokee County Elections Office on Monday, May 16, 2022. (Natrice Miller /

In Georgia’s close, unpredictable elections this year, Libertarian Party candidates could be the wild cards.

Since Georgia requires a candidate win with a majority of all votes, Libertarians could force Republicans and Democrats into runoffs this fall.

A poll last week by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed Libertarian hopefuls getting the support from as many as 7% of likely voters in some races.

While Republicans had dominated runoffs in the past in Georgia, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won runoffs in early January 2021 for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats.

Libertarians say they can make a difference as they try to appeal to voters who value personal liberty and small government, especially after Georgia’s law limiting abortions took effect last month.

“You can see in the polling that everybody kind of hates the two major parties and increasingly don’t like where the country is going,” said Ryan Graham, the Libertarian candidate for lieutenant governor and a former party chairman. “We are giving voice to an underrepresented voting bloc in America.”

Brett Larson, from left, Nathan Wilson, executive director of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, and Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Allen Buckley watch election results on a computer during a Libertarian watch party in November 2016 at the Mellow Mushroom in Atlanta. (BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL)

Credit: Branden Camp

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Credit: Branden Camp

There are 10 Libertarians on the ballot this November in statewide races, including for the U.S. Senate, governor and secretary of state.

But voters won’t have a Libertarian choice in any congressional and legislative races because of Georgia’s ballot access laws, which are among the strictest in the nation. No third-party candidates have ever been able to run for the U.S. House under a 1943 state law that requires them to gather signatures from 5% of registered voters.

One of those Libertarian candidates, Angela Pence, tried to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in a solidly conservative northwest Georgia district. Pence fell far short of the 25,000 signatures she needed, gathering about 6,000.

“I could have shook things up, but instead we’re going to have Marjorie again for another two years,” Pence said. “A Democrat isn’t going to win in this district, but a Libertarian could have given her a run for her money. It’s going to take enough people or the system getting so bad that they’re finally willing to change it.”

The two big political parties have stymied Libertarians’ chances to field more candidates, leaving state law unchanged.

Libertarian challenges have also fallen short in court. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January reversed a ruling that would have lowered the number of signatures needed for a third-party candidate to get on the ballot. The Libertarian Party of Georgia appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

Both major-party candidates for governor, Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams, plan to try to get Libertarians to vote for them.

“The stakes in this election could not be higher,” Kemp campaign spokesman Tate Mitchell said. “Gov. Kemp will continue reaching out to voters in every community and on every side of the aisle.”

Abrams campaign spokesman Alex Floyd said, “She understands how voters are frustrated with the current political status quo in Georgia and has spent her career advocating for Georgians’ right to participate in our democratic process so they can make their voices heard — regardless of the candidate they support.

“Stacey Abrams is focused on reaching out to voters all across our state to talk about how her plans work for them.”

Neither candidate has announced plans to expand ballot access to third parties if elected.

Under Georgia law, third parties can nominate candidates for statewide offices as long as at least one of their candidates received votes from more than 1% of registered voters in the previous general election. But candidates for district races must meet the state’s 5% signature requirement.

Republicans and Democrats often shy away from proposals that could weaken their duopoly control of Georgia politics.

“You don’t want my opinion on it because I’d probably get thrown out of the Republican Party,” said state Rep. Steve Tarvin, a Republican from Chickamauga and chairman of the House Interstate Cooperation Committee. “I would say we need easier ballot access, but I don’t think just anybody can get on the ballot. I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think it’s 25,000 signatures.”

House Minority Leader James Beverly said he’d consider bills expanding ballot access if Democrats took over a majority of seats in the House, which is unlikely to happen this year.

“Everyone who wishes to vote should be able to vote, and you should choose a candidate who best represents your interests. Having a third party isn’t bad,” said Beverly, a Democrat from Macon. “I suspect Libertarians will be more inclined to vote for Democrats now because their basic philosophy upholds liberty as a core value.”

Libertarian candidates know they don’t stand much of a chance of winning this year, but they hope to make their case to voters and grow their base for the future.

The AJC poll showed 3% of likely voters support Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Chase Oliver and less than 1% backed gubernatorial candidate Shane Hazel. The highest-polling Libertarian candidates were Graham for lieutenant governor and Ted Metz for secretary of state, both at about 7%.

The poll of 902 likely voters was conducted July 14-22 and has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points. It was conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs.

Support for Libertarians tends to decline by the time elections arrive. In 2020, Libertarian candidates received between 1% and 3% of the vote.

But that can be enough in a tight race between Republicans and Democrats to throw the election into a runoff, as has happened several times in the past 30 years.

“When you have third parties, those two major parties know that if you don’t keep your promises, you do have options,” said Elizabeth Melton Gallimore, executive director for the Libertarian Party of Georgia.

Libertarian candidates 2022

U.S. Senate: Chase Oliver

Governor: Shane Hazel

Lieutenant governor: Ryan Graham

Secretary of state: Ted Metz

Attorney General: Martin Cowen

Agriculture Commissioner: David Raudabaugh

Labor Commissioner: Emily Anderson

Public Service Commission District 2: Colin McKinney