By John Schaffner

Mary Norwood shows the petition

Sandy Springs-based commercial real estate millionaire Ray Boyd decided to run for governor of Georgia as a Republican but was rebuked by the party and ended up committing $2 million to a campaign to run as an independent.

Former Atlanta City Council member Mary Norwood, just off of a losing campaign to become mayor of Atlanta, decided to seek the post of Fulton County Commission chairman and to run as an independent.

DeKalb County real estate company owner Kerry Witt decided it was time for someone to challenge veteran U.S. Rep. John Lewis and chose to do so as an independent in the forthcoming November elections.

Deciding to seek the office is the easy part for anyone declaring themselves as an independent candidate in Georgia. Georgia has one of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation, which means just getting on the ballot is difficult.

In order to qualify, Boyd was required to obtain signatures of 1 percent of registered voters statewide and Norwood and Witt 5 percent of the registered voters for the office they were seeking.

Boyd needed the signatures of 50,000 qualified Georgia voters. He has since dropped out of the race, claiming that chore was too big, despite his money.

Norwood needs to get the signatures of 22,700 registered Fulton County voters. The campaign committee for incumbent opponent John Eaves has challenged thousands of signatures already obtained on the basis of a technicality involving filling out the petitions.

Witt needed signatures of 20,000 registered voters in the Fifth Congressional District. Webb said he dropped out of the race for two reasons: His father became critically ill and two challengers entered the race as Republicans, which he felt would strip votes from his candidacy.

“Residents of Fulton County deserve another choice for commission chairman this November. We need anyone who cares about ballot access or is a supporter of mine to come out and sign the petition.”

–Mary Norwood

Even Larry Danese, running for a seat on the DeKalb County Soil and Water Conservation District, had to obtain the signatures of 25 registered voters and actually turned in 75 just to ensure he had enough “qualified” signatures. “I have a real advantage,” he said, “because I am seeking a position that is non-partisan.”

Danese already holds one of the two appointed positions on the Soil and Water Conservation District. He decided to run for a vacant elected seat instead.

Danese said of Georgia’s law, “It is outrageous and precludes us having a variety of choices of candidates.” He added that it is difficult for candidates such as Boyd, Norwood and Witt.

Boyd, who has a commercial real estate company at 5600 Roswell Road in Sandy Springs, came out of nowhere, dropped $2 million of his own money into a campaign account and announced he would run for governor. But he refused to sign a GOP loyalty oath and state party leaders refused to allow him on their primary ballot.

So, he began the arduous process of collecting signatures. On June 27, Boyd said it proved too much of a challenge.

Boyd said he had hired a private company to help him collect signatures, but the firm showed him the futility of continuing.

Norwood says Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, a Democrat, is trying to sabotage her campaign by using what she calls a “hyper-technical interpretation of the law,” in insisting that the word “Fulton” be handwritten, by each petition signer, along with a street address. The demand for handwritten “Fulton” would jeopardize thousands of signatures she’s already gathered.

“Residents of Fulton County deserve another choice for commission chairman this November. We need anyone who cares about ballot access or is a supporter of mine to come out and sign the petition,” Norwood said.

Norwood got 49.6 percent of the vote in the city of Atlanta in 2009 when she was defeated by former State Sen. Kasim Reed in the mayoral race. The vote margin was just over 700.

When Norwood was an Atlanta city councilwoman – and when she ran for Atlanta mayor last year – she did not have to declare a party affiliation. Both seats are nonpartisan. Fulton County offices are partisan.

“Being an independent gives me the greatest ability to bring together all the diverse groups of Fulton County,” said Norwood.

However, she’s learning about Georgia’s restrictive laws.

According to Richard Winger, editor of California-based Access News, independent candidates in Mississippi need 200 signatures to be eligible to run for local office. Tennessee requires 25 signatures. In Florida, no signatures are required. In Alabama, independent candidates are required to get the number of signatures equal to 3 percent of the number of people who voted in the most recent gubernatorial race.

Georgia law requires independent candidates running for statewide office to get signatures from 1 percent of the state’s registered voters. Independent candidates running for local office are required to get signatures from 5 percent of registered voters in the municipality, said Winger.

Norwood also has hired a national firm, Free & Equal, to help her get the required number of signatures. Her deadline, by law, is July 13. The deadline for congressional seats is July 3.

On June 30, Norwood said the campaign had collected 15,000 signatures.

She said her hired national signature collection firm collected 90,000 signatures in 12 days recently in Texas. She is confident her campaign will have the 22,700 signatures by July 13.