The American appetite for a third political party is greater than ever, but getting a third-party candidate on the ballot in Georgia is nearly impossible. With the exception of the Libertarian Party, candidates from parties beyond the Democrats and Republicans rarely make it on statewide or local ballots.
“Our ballot access laws are some of the most draconian in the country,” Jason Pye explained to Atlanta Civic Circle. Until earlier this month, he served on the Libertarian Party of Georgia’s executive committee, and he’s also been its legislative director.
Gaining a foothold on a Georgia ballot is an arduous and expensive process, if you’re not a Democrat or Republican. For prospective third-party candidates, it starts with collecting thousands of signatures to a ballot access petition. For statewide races, candidates must garner signatures from at least 1% of active Georgia voters. That can mean tens of thousands of signatures. The petition then must be validated by the Secretary of State’s office before the candidate gets to see their name on a ballot.
“It’s so extraordinarily difficult to do those petition drives,” Pye said. “This is why the Green Party, the Constitution Party, and other third parties don’t have ballot access in Georgia.”
However, the Libertarian Party is fielding a slate of candidates for the upcoming midterm races, after holding its nominating convention in January. They are vying for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, as well as seats in Congress and the Georgia legislature.
The Libertarian Party has been able to garner the support it needs statewide to continue to get on ballots, Pye explained, by winning over 1% of the vote in many statewide races. They still have to do petition drives when running for federal office such as U.S. Congress.
After bouncing back and forth between the Libertarian and Republican parties for years,
Pye said the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol last year prompted him to rejoin the Libertarians.
It also led the 41-year old public policy lobbyist to move to Washington, D.C. for a new job as director of rule of law initiatives for Due Process Institute, a bi-partisan, criminal justice reform nonprofit. That’s a bit of a shift from his old job as vice president of legislative affairs for FreedomWorks, a conservative-libertarian advocacy group with the slogan of “lower taxes, less government, more freedom.”
Pye talked to Atlanta Civic Circle about the two-party system (“It sucks.”), why third parties can’t gain ballot access, and how to change that. .
The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Tammy Joyner: A recent Gallup poll said 62% of Americans think our traditional two-party system is functioning so poorly that we need a third party. How difficult is it to get on the ballot in Georgia if you’re not a Democrat or Republican?
Jason Pye: Most people are looking for another viable option for a political party. It’s extraordinarily difficult to get on the ballot though, particularly in Georgia. You have to get, I think, 1% of all registered voters in Georgia to sign petitions, and then the Secretary of State has to validate the signatures.
It can be a very hard and very time-consuming thing to do. Not to mention expensive.
So to get on a ballot, you’d have to spend a lot of money?
I would say several thousand [dollars] – and that’s if you want to pay. If you rely on volunteers, you’re completely at the behest of people who show up to collect signatures. I’ve done petition signature gathering. It is not a fun process.
So that’s kind of what you’re up against when you’re getting signatures or trying to get on the ballot as a candidate for the Libertarian Party or any third party–or even as a political independent, who doesn’t want to run with a party next to their name.
How many third-party candidates have succeeded at getting on the Georgia ballot in the past few years?
The first political campaign I worked on was in 2004. I was 23 years old and it was for a guy running for the statehouse in Henry County. He paid people to get signatures for him, and he got on the ballot as a Libertarian. He got like 4% of the vote.
But it hasn’t been easy to do in the last several years. I don’t know of a third-party candidate in Georgia who has gotten on the ballot in the last decade who was not running in a special election. In special elections, signature requirements do not apply.
So even though most Americans are dissatisfied with the two-party system, you’re saying we have to jump through hoops to get a third-party candidate on the ballot in Georgia. What can people do to change that? Would you have to go to the legislature?
That’s right. As I’ve noted, Georgia has some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country, if not the most restrictive.
Oddly enough, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston –-before he became speaker – carried one of those [ballot access] bills, but [the Republicans] are not interested in pursuing that now, especially now that he is in power. You’re in a situation where the legislature is not willing to move on something like that, simply because of who’s in power.
Is there a future for third parties? There would have to be some pretty significant changes to election law for that to happen, to address ballot access laws in Georgia and elsewhere.
How likely is that to happen?
It’s really tough to say. The courts can get involved. Unfortunately, the 11th Circuit shut down one particular case in Georgia [challenging ballot access laws]. So it’s almost certainly going to have to be done legislatively– and that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.
So this really has never been about what voters want, has it?
To a large degree, it is. But it’s really hard to sort of parse through that because it’s a lot more complicated. I didn’t vote for Biden or Trump because they both sucked. Same with [2016 presidential candidate Hillary] Clinton. I voted third-party for Gary Johnson in 2016. I actually wrote in someone in 2020. I have no problem voting third party or writing someone in.
What’s the main problem with the two-party electoral system?
There are two problems. First, Republicans and Democrats waste too much time going for the margins. They seek out the blind partisans who are going to vote for the R or the D, no matter who’s on the ballot.
Number two is the way we create our congressional districts. They carve the districts out to guarantee a partisan outcome. Whether Republican or Democrat, if whoever’s running is in a district that was created for them, or for their party–they don’t need my vote to win.
That creates frustration for the voters. So, in some respects, for the two major parties, it’s not about the voters.
What have you learned from all of this?
The two-party system doesn’t work. It is intended to ensure certain outcomes.
Ranked-choice voting is a way to go. You allow people to vote their conscience. They put their choices in order. We are in the middle of a political realignment right now and we have been for several years. The question is, when is the realignment complete?