The special elections to be held in Georgia this November will again be slim picking for Libertarians. Republicans and Democrats have effectively boxed out independent-minded candidates, and most of the state’s population, from even appearing on a ballot.
Barriers to qualifying (prerequisites for appearing on a state ballot) continue to restrict candidate choices to cronyist party insiders. Draconian ballot access restrictions that choke regularly scheduled elections; third party candidates – but not candidates posted by Republicans or Democrats – must collect tens of thousands of signatures and have each notarized. Special elections bypass some of these archaic obstacles, but carry their own set of exclusionary tactics.
Former Libertarian Senate candidate Amanda Swafford, now an Independent, posted a scathing indictment on Facebook September 15, after eight Republicans and 16 Democrats, but not a single independent or third party candidate, was deemed “qualified” to appear on November’s ballots.
The staggering odds Swafford identified, she said made it “little surprise” that no third party or independent candidate had been accepted for the ballot. Allowing state officials to select (or reject) their own opponents has yielded predictable results.
Georgia’s 56 Senate districts and 180 (lower) House districts shatter the state map and splinter its metropolitan areas.
As a ratio of residents, the handful of districts in play is tiny. This November, residents of just six districts out of 236 will have an opportunity to run; the most highly qualified, highly motivated Libertarian residing anywhere in the other 230 simply isn’t eligible.
Each house district represents 53,820 Georgians. With just four house districts in play, 97.5% of Georgians aren’t eligible to run – or vote – in those races.
The governor announced the districts for special election on September 6, and the “qualifying period” opened just five days later. Within a week (Sept 13) the qualifying window had closed. Anyone operating without an established and pre-privileged party framework had little chance of meeting the deadlines.
Third parties hoping to appear on a ballot must find a suitable candidate among the chosen 2.5% of Georgians, in only a few days. Given that some percentage of that 2.5% must be otherwise ineligible: younger than 25 or a recent arrival to that district.
Elections, which must be held a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 60 days after the election. A serious independent contender would need a full-scale campaign infrastructure already in place before the announcement of eligible districts. But not everyone is held to the same short deadline.
“I guarantee that hand-picked, crony insiders get a heads up before the seat opens up (in cases like current seat-holders being appointed to another position) so that they can hit the ground running with a head start” observed a commenter on Swafford’s post. Given the historical corruption of party politics in general and Georgia in particular, it’s a very good bet.
Serving in The General Assembly “is a Full Time job on a Part Time income,” Swafford points out. Anyone who doesn’t have a job that lets them live in Atlanta for half the year (often maintaining a separate residence) and conduct campaigning and state business in addition to paid work, is unlikely to put that job on the line for a narrow shot at the Assembly’s $17K stipend. Those who set their own schedules (lawyers, salesmen, real estate agents, the wealthy) are just a fraction of Georgians, but are overrepresented under the Gold Dome.
Ballot access restrictions, including the deliberate manipulation of district lines to protect or promote established party interests (gerrymandering) is a local as well as a national disgrace.
Georgians deserve a better chance at running for office, and a wider spectrum of views represented, than the ruling parties are willing to provide them.