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"Access to Election Ballots"
Howard Phillips' Testimony to Congress
The Conservative Caucus
450 Maple Avenue East * Vienna, Va. 22180 * 703-938-9626


Representative Brian Joyce, a GOP member of the Georgia Legislature with strong conservative principles, has introduced legislation to liberalize Georgia's onerous, arbitrary, and restrictive ballot access laws.

At Representative Joyce's invitation, I had the opportunity to testify on March 2 in behalf of the U.S. Taxpayers Alliance before the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Georgia House of Representatives. I offered these comments:

"Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, the purpose of an election is to give voters the opportunity to change their government — to replace the people who run it and the policies which have hitherto prevailed.

"It is a strange thing, therefore, when the government places itself in the position of deciding in what manner eligible citizens may exercise their right to support such changes."


"For much of American history, there was no such thing as an ‘official ballot’, let alone a requirement of state-approved ballot access. In the early days of the Republic, voters, known to their neighbors, stepped forward in public assembly to declare their preferences."


"Once the Australian ballot — the secret ballot — was adopted [first in Massachusetts, in 1888], voters could mark the names of their preferred candidates on any piece of paper and deposit this unregulated expression of preference in the ballot box. Eventually, political parties developed ‘slate cards’ which could be placed in ballot boxes by their adherents.

"It has only been in this century that the notion of an ‘official’ ballot, produced by the government, came to be the exclusive means by which citizens may register their choices.

"Arguments in favor of ‘official ballots’ ranged from efficiency and accuracy in vote-counting to the screening out of persons who had not given notice of their candidacies."


"Nonetheless, onerous requirements encompassing ways and means of gaining access to the official ballot have, all too often, become a means for restricting the ability of candidates to stand for election, and of voters to have a free choice in determining who shall hold positions of electoral responsibility.

"‘Equal protection of the law’ and ‘equal justice under the law’ are core principles of American jurisprudence. But, tragically, those principles are often ignored by political incumbents who help erect barriers to organized participation in the election process by American citizens who prefer to exercise their Constitutional rights outside the confines of the Republican and Democratic parties."


"In Georgia, Republican and Democratic party candidates for Federal, and State office as well, face only one hurdle in order to have their name appear on the official electoral ballot. Either by petition or caucus nomination, they are permitted to take the first step toward the possibility of election.

"For others, however, those wishing to identify with a not yet recognized political party, the barriers to entry are high and they are expensive.

"Georgia election law creates obstacles which are particularly onerous to citizen taxpayers and voters who are not professional politicians. Each of the procedures by themselves may seem defensible, or even reasonable — but, taken as a whole, they constitute a dense thicket of brush and briar difficult to traverse even in the context of conscientious effort and professional assistance.

"Some of the requirements include:

"1) adopting and filing articles and bylaws thirty days prior to a nominating convention;

"2) filing documents concerning these with a certificate from the chairman and secretary;

"3) permitting the Secretary of State to review such documents for adequacy;

"4) filing a registration statement within sixty days of organization, with a filing fee to accompany certified copies of the entity's charter, bylaws, rules and regulations, as well as other documents governing the body, the address of its principal office, the names, home addresses and titles of the persons composing its governing committees;

"5) a political body has the option of qualifying its candidates by convention if, in addition to taking each of the above steps, it has filed a petition signed by voters equal in number to one percent of the registered voters who were registered and eligible to vote in the preceding general election;

"6) once a party is qualified, it may stay on the ballot if any of its statewide candidates received votes equivalent to one percent of the total number of registered voters (it is by this means that established parties achieve what is, in effect, permanent ballot access);

"7) the nominating convention must be held at least 150 days prior to the date of the general election;

"8) notice of the convention has to be published in at least two newspapers, giving notice a certain number of days prior to the convention;

"9) candidates nominated for statewide office at such conventions have a five-day window in June during which they may file a notice of candidacy (a new political party which has not chosen its national ticket by June therefore risks being barred from a place on the ballot);

"10) petition sheets are divided by county;

"11) each petition sheet must be certified by the circulator and filed with the State no later than the second Tuesday in July."


"One of the factors which kept the U.S. Taxpayers Party off the ballot in Georgia, despite having filed in 1996 more than the required 30,036 signatures, was that Georgia (unlike any other State of which I am aware) prohibits a circulator of even a single petition sheet from notarizing other sheets of petitions circulated by other persons.

"As the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, concluded on October 17, 1996 in the case of Natural Law Party of Georgia and U.S. Taxpayers Party of Georgia versus Lewis A. Massey, Secretary of State of Georgia, and Zell Miller, Governor of the State of Georgia: ‘Plaintiffs...assert that they had no way of knowing that Georgia, unlike any other state, prohibits a circulator of pages of a petition from also notarizing other pages of the same petition. Plaintiffs claim, and the court agrees, that this prohibition is not self-evident from the relevant statutes. Plaintiffs claim that they diligently sought out the proper procedures for obtaining ballot access. However, nothing in the Georgia election code and rules of the State Election Board handed out by the Secretary of State or in the repeated discussions with the Secretary of State's office informed them that a circulator may not also act as a notary.’"


"The court found that the defendant, the State of Georgia, ‘does not have an obligation to give additional notice. Defendant need not instruct plaintiffs on the relevant law, or notify plaintiffs about every case interpreting the relevant laws. Rather it is incumbent on plaintiffs to research the law and its nuances.’ That was the ruling of U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper on October 17, 1996."


"The long pattern of American history has been to facilitate access to the ballot box rather than restrict it. Historically, the right to vote has been extended to include persons outside the prevailing Christian faith, persons without property, African Americans, women, persons as young as 18 — indeed, in Federal elections, even residence requirements have been virtually eliminated.

"But there is still one aspect of electoral participation in which the barriers to entry remain high, and that is with respect to American citizens and taxpayers whose political views are ‘politically incorrect’ or _politically unconnected’ — in that they seek the option of considering candidates on party lines outside the Republican and Democratic parties."


"We could talk at length about the many advantages which are peculiarly accorded the Republican and Democratic parties by Federal election laws, as well as by State election laws in Georgia and elsewhere.

"The good news is that, all over America, the trend is to tear down the arbitrary barriers to ballot access, and to thereby enable more widespread political participation. We have seen evidence of progress in many states, including Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Montana.

"But, tragically, Georgia, which has been a pioneering state in so many ways and in so many areas, remains one of the last bastions of political exclusivity and exclusion when it comes to ballot access.

"I urge you to end this kind of second class citizenship and to support legislation which will help give all Georgia citizens, regardless of creed, equal access to the political process and equal justice under law."

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