Eleventh Circuit Federal decision vacates district court decision; rules that Georgia must revisit third party election exclusion
ATLANTA, Ga. (Heartland Newsfeed) — Libertarians scored a victory Wednesday against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger which could signal change regarding the ballot access of third parties. Previously, Georgia election law excludes anyone outside of the Republicratic parties to appear on the ballot each election cycle.
The Court of Appeals in the Eleventh Circuit made a ruling Wednesday in Cowen v. Georgia Secretary of State (19-14065, 11 Cir. 2020) which now requires a Georgia district court to consider whether candidates of the Libertarian Party of Georgia had been unconstitutionally excluded by the ballot access requirements in the state.
The ballot access issue in Georgia — prior to and during the COVID-19 era
Third parties and independents must collect thousands of signatures to petition the partisan Secretary of State before running. These often involve costly restrictions that do not apply to the parties of the duopoly. If a major party doesn’t slate a candidate, a prohibition currently keeps third parties and independents from challenging the lone candidate. As a result, 60 percent of incumbents in the Georgia General Assembly won their re-election bids without a single opponent.
A separate suit filing by the state party cites the physical distancing guidelines by the CDC made petitioning illegal and immoral. This stems from their March request for injunctive relief.
Legal counsel Bryan Sells argued in district court that the current ballot access barrier violates their associational rights. These are protections under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Additionally argued were their equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Voters experience disenfranchisement when their preferred candidates are kept from the ballot.
“Today’s ruling from the Court of Appeals means that the Secretary of State is going to have to justify a ballot-access scheme that has deprived Georgia voters of choice in congressional elections for more than 70 years,” said Sells.
Sells has handled the case pro-bono, but the Georgia LP has raised $13,000 to cover expenses and court fees.
Martin Cowen, the most recent of more than two dozen candidates to try and fail to meet the signature requirement to run for U.S. House, is a plaintiff in both suits. Sells serves as counsel for the separate suit filed by the party.l
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