Written by Tom Knighton
Supporters of Lorenzo Heard circulated a paper prior to Friday’s election board meeting. It was titled “Definition of Concepts” and at first blush appeared to be something to help clarify the proceedings for the audience. Instead, it was a document which made what some may consider as rather wild accusations. Several made arguments that sound much like cries of racism. The question is, was it?
[Editor's Note: The below quotes from the "Definition of Concepts" are presented as exactly how they appeared on the form. We have left the grammatical errors and word choices alone not to discredit the writer, but simply to avoid accusations of The Journal having tampered with what was written.]
“First and far most the election office’s rejection of Rev. Lorenzo Heard’s application for him to qualify for the race for the School Board At Large seat cause him to be disenfranchised therefore denying him a legal right and privelege.”
This was the first bullet point under the notices. It makes no mention of elections supervisor Ginger Nickerson’s attempt to rectify the situation. According to Nickerson’s statement to the elections board on Friday, a member of her staff believed the notification of candidacy to be a copy and told Clinton Jones – who was acting as Heard’s “agent” – that it needed to be an original. Jones left the office.
This bullet point also fails to note any attempts by Nickerson of trying to have Heard return the document that was mistakenly rejected. Nickerson told the board that the document was date and time stamped, and would have been deemed acceptable. However, it was reported to Nickerson that the form was destroyed.
Discrimination by elections office
“When the election office which is a government entity that should be objective and non partisan rejected Rev. Heard’s application they showed disrespect, disregard and outright discrimination toward Rev. Heard.”
Bullet point number two makes some very specific accusations. After all, it claims discrimination on the part of the election office. However, it appears that Nickerson’s staff simply made a mistake. Nickerson told the Dougherty County Board of Elections that her staff member believed the document was not an original.
Heard’s agent left, with the document, and took it elsewhere. At that point, the notice of candidacy was destroyed. Nickerson, who is responsible for what happens within her office, not only showed no signs of discrimination, but also reportedly tried to make it right by asking for the notice to be returned to the office.
Ballot Access issues
“No one has the right or authority to impede the free flow of the political process that we all have a right to. When that is done it is a serious miscarriage of justice. We are past that in this country.”
The next bullet point appears to charge the elections office with trying to impede the political process. Few would disagree that “the free flow of the political process” should be as unimpeded as possible. However, that appears to be something beyond Nickerson’s, or the election board, ability to control.
Heard isn’t the only one who has had to deal with the ballot access laws in the state of Georgia. Brett Bittner is very familiar with them too. Bittner is the executive director of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, the third largest political party in the state. However, without the ballot access that the Democrats and Republicans enjoy, he’s become very familiar with ballot access laws.
“In the 1940’s, Georgia was a one party state,” Bittner said, referring to a time when the state was ruled by Democrats. Bittner said that during World War II and with the beginning of the Cold War, legislators became fearful of communist and socialist influences gaining a foothold in the state. In response to that fear, Bittner says that the state enacted what have been described as the most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation.
Heard’s supporters appear to blame the elections office and elections board, but it Bittner notes that the laws the board must follow are meticulous, and Libertarians are routinely denied ballot access as well.
In fact, Bittner mentions several instances in recent history where these same laws have prevent other candidates from appearing on the ballot. Brad Ploeger, Mary Norwood, Faye Caulfield, Cynthia McKinney and Brad Bryant are just a few examples.
Shots at Lane Price
“Any candidate who has won a primary election should be ready for competition regardless of political party affiliation.”
The next bullet point takes a shot at the winner of the Democratic primary, Dr. Lane Price. While few would disagree, some who have heard this bullet point shake their head as to what relevance it had with the election board.
Change in party affiliation?
“Anyone can change their party at anytime, which is their privilege. This is what is called freedom. The Independent Party is a recognized Political Party in this county.”
I doubt many people would argue that one should be unable to change their party affiliation. In fact, Georgia doesn’t even require voters to register for a particular party in the first place.
However, this bullet point also claims that “The Independent Party is a recognized Political Party in this county.” Political parties, and their ballot access, is determined at the Secretary of State’s office based on vote totals from previous elections. The Libertarian Party, for example, has statewide access due to their receiving at least one percent of the vote during the state’s gubernatorial race. One would be hard pressed to find an independent in a statewide political race.
In addition, the bullet point doesn’t actually mention independents, but “[t]he Independent Party”. The closest political body to that name is The American Independent Party, a right-wing political party best known for its nomination of segregationist George Wallace for the presidency. That particular party seems to have no meaningful presence in Georgia anyways.
“Dark Days of Old”
“The election’s[sic] office does not have the mandate to reject Rev. Heard’s application for flimsy reasons which is tantamount to the ‘Dark Days of Old,’ when African Americans were asked to recite the American Constitution or pass literacy tests before they could vote.”
By mentioning items such as the literacy test and requirements that voters recite the United States Constitution, Heard’s supporters are apparently claiming that ballot access laws are discriminatory. Bittner agrees, though not quite in the way that Heard’s supporters might like. “What we’re seeing is a similar test,” Bittner said. However, he points out that there are differences as well. “It’s partisan and philosophical” he said, as opposed to racial.
In fact, the current ballot access laws have allowed a significant number of African-Americans to run through the past several decades. Mayor Dorothy Hubbard and Congressman Sanford Bishop are just two examples. What the “Definition of Concepts” paper is arguing, however, is that ballot access laws are blocking African-American participation in the system. Some observers scratch their head at that upon learning about this argument. After all, Heard was seeking the seat currently held by Anita Williams-Brown. An African-American woman.
Fair and Unfair
“Nothing is unfair for a, ‘Bona fide Citizen’ of the United States to run for office.”
At the heart of this bullet point is the argument between fair and unfair. However, Nickerson’s office isn’t accused of doing anything more than making a mistake, a mistake they tried to correct. Heard appears to be held to the same standards as all other independent candidates.
For example, Heard’s co-worker Terrence Wilson followed the same steps for candidacy. However, he fell short of the required signatures, gathering just 81 verified signatures. In Lee County, Tim Nelson was able to secure a slot on the November ballot as an independent candidate following the exact same rules.
The Number of Signatures
“Rev. Heard was asked to get 2,900 signatures on petitions from Friday to Monday[,] let us be realistic. This looks like the, ‘Dark Days of Old.’”
Unfortunately, this particular point probably depends more on a lack of understanding of the law than of anything that happened in Dougherty County. Heard’s supporters are alleging that they had only a few days to gather the necessary signatures to secure Heard’s spot on the ballot.
However, Georgia’s Election Code, section 22-2-132 states that a candidate “That each signature on such sheet was signed within 180 days of the last day on which such petition may be filed”. In other words, Heard had six months to gather signatures, not “from Friday to Monday” has the form alleges.
In fact, some in the community have speculated that Heard’s interest in public office came about only because of the outcome of the Democratic primary which ousted incumbent Williams-Brown.
The Process was still open
“A primary election is just that; the ‘Democratic Primary’ ended July 31, but the process and qualifying was still open, not over! Anyone had the right to qualify. No one is a ‘Sure in’ from a primary. The election will be won in November not July.”
Much of this appears again to be targeted at Dr. Lane Price. Price made comments to local media about how disappointed she was to believe the race was over, only to learn about a challenge coming from out of nowhere. What the author of this paper may have missed is that Heard was being denied access not because of any factor other than improperly following protocol.
In fact, at least one area candidate was able to secure enough signatures and follow that protocol correctly and will be on the ballot. While Nelson is running in Lee County, the rules are identical as they are laid down by state law.
The following was found at the bottom of the “Definition of Concepts” paper circulated during the meeting:
My brothers and sisters; Enough is Enough! We must not “Regress” but continue to “Progress” into a society where everyone has the same “Civil Rights;” in Albany, Georgia as well as in this great country of ours. Rev. Heard met the deadline and was disenfranchised because his application was rejected. He was further asked to do the almost impossible, collect 2900 signatures on petition in a ridiculous amount of time which he accomplished. There is no legitimate reason why his name should not be on the ballot in November for the School Board At Large seat now that he has met all the requirements.
This paper was circulated prior to election supervisor Ginger Nickerson’s statement that Heard fell significantly short of the 2,900 signatures required for his candidacy.
While Nickerson’s own statement indicates that Heard’s notice of candidacy was improperly rejected, there are still ample reasons why the board of elections rejected his candidacy. For one, he did not pay his filing fee. This is not something that a county election board can wave according to Nickerson’s statement to the board, but must go through the courts.
Heard’s case has transfixed the local political landscape. At this point, it appears that despite claims of racism, Heard and his supporters may have just fallen on the wrong side of ballot access laws and poor understanding of the laws that govern independent candidates.
Cries of racism are heard in Albany rather often. Often times there is a basis of fact. In this case, there appears to be no evidence supporting the claim.