In most states, independent and third-party candidates have to leap some hurdles to put their names in front of voters. In Georgia, the barriers build up to a wall. A proposed rewrite of ballot laws now seems likely to overlook a key committee’s advice and leave the biggest brick untouched. “If I wanted to run as an independent for the Bibb County Commission chair’s job,” said Macon businessman Tom Wagoner, “I was required by law to get a petition signed by 4,500 registered voters in the county.” Anyone who wants to run for county or district elected office has to get signatures from 5 percent of their prospective voters — people registered during the previous election. Getting on a statewide ballot, for governor or a U.S. Senate seat for example, would take about 58,000 signatures, 1 percent of Georgia’s registered voters.
It’s illegal to pass the petition hand to hand at any kind of office or gathering; the candidate or their designate must witness every single pen stroke. Petitions must be on sheets of paper “of uniform size.” Signers must be willing to give their address and must be careful to sign just as their voter access card is signed. Initialing the petition is not allowed, and the petition must be notarized. State Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, said he was told he cannot canvass in front of a grocery store because alcohol is sold inside. And an independent can only run for city office if that city has its own local law allowing it.
“There are things I don’t like about the Democratic Party, there are things I don’t like about the Republican Party,” Wagoner said. But the access laws made him feel as if he was forced to choose a side or go home. He decided to run as a Republican. “It’s sad that it’s that way. It shouldn’t be that way,” he said. But if he had been willing to buy an independent spot on the ballot, he could have had it for about $10,000.