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Back of the Bus: Georgia's Repressive Ballot Laws

Dear editor,

I was heartened by the letters criticizing Georgia's sinister-sounding black box voting system [in the December 22 issue]. However, Georgia's election woes go beyond even this.

Georgia has arguably the most repressive and undemocratic ballot laws in America. Since 1943, Georgia requires a petition, signed by 5% of registered voters, for any third party candidate for the U.S. House to get on the ballot.

This effectively outlaws the creation of viable, active alternative parties in Georgia. No third party candidate has ever been able to meet this outrageous signature requirement. Not one.

In 2001, Richard Winger, America's leading ballot law expert, observed: "In all U.S. history, no one has ever overcome a ballot access hurdle for U.S. House greater than 13,000 signatures. Yet in the average district in Georgia, almost 15,000 signatures are required."

Ballot laws for other offices are similarly crippling.

Thus Georgians are denied the right to vote for Libertarians (except for a few offices), Greens, Constitutionalists, and other alternative parties. Voters don't get to hear the fresh new ideas these candidates bring. Or benefit from the political competition.

Of course, this is great for those in power. In the 2004 elections over 50% of the state House, over 1/3 of the state Senate, and 1/3 of House seats had only one candidate.

Last year, legislation to reform this -- HB927, the Ballot Access Reform Act of 2005 -- was introduced in the Georgia General Assembly. However, the Republican-Democratic monopoly voted it down.

Historically, new parties have played a vital role in American politics. In Georgia, however, they have been forced to the back of the bus.


James W. Harris

(published in Creative Loafing, January 4, 2006) 

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