Political neophyte Angela Pence’s quixotic attempt to get on the ballot as a Libertarian in the 14th Congressional District has been shut down by a restrictive Georgia election law that for 79 years has blocked third-party candidates from running for Congress.
Pence’s six-month trek through northwest Georgia in her old Honda yielded just 6,000 signatures to her ballot-access petition–woefully short of the 23,000 she needed.
To run for Congress as a third-party candidate in Georgia, a petitioner must collect signatures from 5% of the active voters in their district–a bar so high that no one has ever met it. That’s been the case since 1943 when the state legislature passed a restrictive ballot access law to keep communists out of Congress. In fact, election experts say Georgia has the most stringent ballot access laws in the country.
Atlanta Civic Circle, which has been chronicling Pence’s efforts since February, caught up with her on Tuesday–the cutoff deadline for submitting the requisite number of signatures to the Secretary of State’s office.
“We knew this was going to be a long shot,” the Chickamauga resident told Atlanta Civic Circle, adding that she doesn’t regret all the time and effort she put into her campaign just for the chance to run for Congress.
“One of my biggest goals for this race was to shine light on ballot access,” she said.
14th District ironies
Pence said her ballot-access campaign led to surprising discoveries about people’s political leanings in her heavily Republican mountain district, where Marjorie Taylor Greene, a pro-Trump Republican, was elected to Congress in 2020.
Running against Greene is what motivated Pence’s long-shot congressional quest because she didn’t think the controversial congresswoman “truly represented the people of my district.”
“I felt my natural allies would be the moderate Republicans. Many of them were, but I expected it to be more,” she said.
To her surprise, “I had an extreme outpouring of support from the Democrats in this area,” Pence added. “Quite frankly–and I don’t mean this in any kind of ugly way whatsoever–but I didn’t know so many existed.”
As a Libertarian, Pence thinks the government should stay out of people’s private lives–including on abortion–which aligns her with Democrats on some social issues.
“My official stance on abortion is that the government should stay the hell out of it. A woman has the right to that access,” said the mother of eight. (Her ninth child is due in December.)
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, she added, “I was very unhappy with it. I don’t think people expected that from me, because I am obviously very pro-life for my family.”
Pence’s far-flung district in the northwest corner of Georgia is mostly white and rural, but it extends south all the way into Paulding County and parts of Cobb.
The many miles she logged unveiled ironies.
“People here are craving a smaller government, a more individualized government,” Pence said. “The problem is that people like me can’t make it on the ballot. So they have no choice but to go to somebody like Marjorie. Some of the things she says mimic somebody who would want a smaller government–but underneath the surface, they’re more authoritarian.
“I think a lot of these people are going to be surprised when all of a sudden our government changes into something Christian nationalistic–and they are like, ‘Oh, God, we didn’t want this.’ But you voted for this because you want the system. Really, it’s quite ironic.”
Libertarian’s ballot-access push
Pence was part of a slate of 14 candidates the Libertarians nominated in January for the November election.
While it’s shut out of congressional races, the party has been fielding a robust slate of candidates for statewide races since 1988. Once a Libertarian gains a spot on the ballot in those races, it’s automatic for future nominees as well–the same as for the Democrats and Republicans.
“It’s frustrating that I get to be on the ballot and Angela doesn’t,” the state Libertarian Party’s former chair, Ryan Graham, who is running for lieutenant governor, told Atlanta Civic Circle.
Graham said the Libertarians will keep fighting every election cycle to gain ballot access for both congressional and state legislative seats, which also require signature petitions.
“We’re going to keep on building up infrastructure to get the signatures required–and we’re going to keep on seeing if we can find legislators to sponsor bills,” he vowed, in order to change the state’s restrictive ballot access law.
The Libertarians have spent the last five years fighting the draconian law in court. They won their legal challenge in federal district court last year, but then lost on appeal. Graham said that this month the party will petition the Supreme Court to hear the case.
Still a shot?
In retrospect, Pence said, she should have started her ballot-access campaign a lot earlier than February, due to the many hurdles. “I wish I had gotten over the barriers of asking people for financial help, or even signatures, earlier on,” she said, estimating that she raised about $15,000 all told.
Money, unsurprisingly, has been an obstacle, as it is for many regular people who run for office. Pence took a do-it-yourself approach to collecting signatures after a campaign expert estimated it would cost from $95,000 to $150,000 to pay petitioners to collect them.
Besides the expense of logging a lot of miles on the road, Pence paid $5,220 in registration fees, just for the chance to run.
She took to Twitter on Monday to break the news about not getting enough signatures. “My name may not be printed on the ballot,” she tweeted. “But this is far from the end for this team.”
Pence hasn’t ruled out another run in 2024, and she’s still contemplating a write-in campaign for the November election. It could gain some traction, she thinks with characteristic optimism, “because I was at one point a valid candidate, but they wouldn’t let me on the ballot.”