ATLANTA -- Georgia’s election law should be changed to allow more third-party candidates, voting machines with paper records and vetting of presidential hopefuls, according to 19 witnesses at Wednesday’s initial meeting of the Georgia Election Advisory Council.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose office oversees elections, conceived the council and appointed it 15 members of legislators, academics and elections officials. When he first announced it, he said its goal would be to find ideas to save money and improve efficiency.
The witnesses said they were looking for more substantive changes.
“A lot of these things are going to depend on the will of the legislature,” Kemp said.
Ray Boyd, a real-estate developer who tried to run for governor last year as a Republican and then as an independent, dismissed the whole commission as a sham designed for appearances rather than action
“Brian Kemp is kicking the can down the road, holding his breath,” Boyd said.
He blasted Kemp for maintaining laws that make Georgia among the toughest states for independent and third-party candidates. Those comments were echoed by officials from the Libertarian and Green Party as well as independents.
To run for the legislature or Congress, they would need to get their petition signed by 5 percent of the voters or 1 percent for a statewide contest. Plus, they would have to submit a hefty filing fee while Republicans and Democrats pay just a fraction and need no petitions at all.
Nan Garrett, a Green Party candidate for governor in 2002 who failed to get enough signatures to land on the ballot, chided the Republicans and Democrats on the commission.
“You’ve got to be willing to face competition if you truly believe you have the best ideas,” she said.
Many of the witnesses were like Boyd, unsuccessful candidates describing the hurdles they faced.
Mary Norwood, an Augusta native who narrowly lost the 2009 race for Atlanta’s mayor, told how her campaign couldn’t challenge improper voting by trying to see if voters’ signature at the polling place matched the registrar’s records. Fulton County officials told her they wouldn’t release the cards signed on election day on privacy concerns because they contained birthdays, even though state voter rolls available to the public also contain birthdays.
A handful of witnesses railed against the state’s electronic voting machines because they don’t have a paper record that can be audited in a recount.
While they have often raised the same complaint in various forums since the machines were first used 10 years ago, they may get more attention from the commission this year, according to commission member Mike Jablonski, attorney for the Democratic Party of Georgia. That’s because the machines are going to be close to the end of their useful life, and the commission could make recommendations on their replacements for when the state budget allows the upgrade, he said.
Jablonski, and his GOP counterpart Anne Lewis who is also on the commission, want the panel to streamline the election law so that it’s easier for candidates to understand. That’s the type of non-controversial recommendation Kemp said would be the easiest for the commission to make first.
Wednesday’s three-hour meeting will be followed by public testimony next month in Savannah, Albany in June and Augusta in July. The public can also submit comments on the Secretary of State’s website at http://www.sos.ga.gov/GAEAC/.