11th Circuit Vacates District Court; Rules Georgia Must Revisit Third Parties’ Exclusion from Elections
Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia law functionally excludes anyone but Republicans and Democrats from appearing on many election ballots. But the Libertarian Party of Georgia won a victory over the Secretary of State today that may signal change.
In a ruling issued on June 3, the 11th Circuit Court required a Georgia district court to consider whether candidates of the Libertarian Party of Georgia had been unconstitutionally excluded by the state’s ballot access requirements.
Independent and third-party candidates must collect thousands of signatures and petition the (partisan) Secretary of State before running. These costly restrictions do NOT apply to Democrats or Republicans. Even when a “major party” fails to run a candidate, no third party or independent can act as challenger. 60 percent of Georgia Assembly incumbents ran unopposed in 2018.
The Libertarian Party of Georgia filed a separate request for injunctive relief in March, when the CDC’s social distancing guidelines made collecting the required signatures door-to-door and in public both illegal and immoral.
Arguing not just for themselves but for other unrecognized parties and political independents, Libertarians told the district court that ballot access barriers violated their associational rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments and their Equal Protection rights under the 14th Amendment. Libertarian candidates were being denied the right to run for office, they claimed, and Libertarian voters were disenfranchised when their chosen candidates were blocked from appearing on ballots.
“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 Bryan Sells, the attorney for the Libertarian Party and its co-plaintiffs in both suits. Sells has handled the case pro-bono, but the Georgia LP has raised $13,000 to cover expenses and court fees.
Martin Cowen, Georgia resident and 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.
Read the Ruling: Martin Cowen, et al. v. Georgia Secretary of State, No. 19-14065 (11th Cir. 2020)
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