Last Tuesday, Democratic voters in nine southwest Georgia counties filled out their ballots in the party’s primary, selecting nominees for U.S. Senate, Congress and various local races.
Any votes they cast for a man named James Williams, however, were not counted.
That’s because Williams, the only Democratic candidate for state House District 151, was officially thrown off the ballot earlier this month following a challenge by his opponent, incumbent Republican state Representative Gerald Greene (R-Cuthbert).
The circumstances surrounding Williams’ qualification and subsequent disqualification are the subject of heated debate in Georgia’s political community, but the bottom line is that James Williams is not the Democratic nominee and will not be on the ballot in November.
This marks the second presidential election year in a row that Gerald Greene has not had an opponent (the Democratic candidate in 2012 was thrown off the ballot as well). He’s certainly not alone: the vast majority of Republican state lawmakers will be unopposed in the general election.
Greene, though, is a special case. First, he’s a party-switcher, flipping to the GOP in 2010 after serving decades as a loyal Democrat. Second, he represents a heavily African-American district that has never been held by a person of color in its current form. And finally, he holds easily the most Democratic seat in the state currently represented by a Republican.
How Democratic is it, exactly? Well, the district voted for President Obama in 2012. Then, two years later, voters in the district overwhelmingly supported Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn, the Democratic candidates for Georgia’s top two statewide races in 2014.
That’s not to say Greene hasn’t been tested — he defeated his Democratic opponent fair and square last cycle. But keep in mind that midterm elections like 2014 usually see turnout hover around 50 percent. Turnout this year could be over 20 percentage points higher, meaning that thousands of new voters will go to the polls in House district 151 this November.
So, when those voters find out that Greene voted for the much-maligned Campus Carry legislation, or that he did nothing as Gov. Deal’s inaction caused the closing of two hospitals in his district, they will have no other choice on the ballot.
But is there hope on the horizon?
The group primarily responsible for recruiting Democratic candidates for state House races, the Georgia House Democratic Caucus, has announced plans to recruit an independent candidate for House District 151.
Given the circumstances, this is by far the best next step to take at this point, but it won’t be easy.
An independent candidate would need to garner over 1,500 petition signatures by the end of June to even get on the ballot (meaning that organizers would have to secure more than that number to compensate for repeated signatures, incorrect names, etc.). And even though the candidate’s name would be listed on the ballot, it would take significant spending and aggressive campaigning to even give that candidate the same kind of exposure that usually comes built-in for party nominees.
But it is possible. And, as the House Caucus says, it’s important to the district.
“We think that the right thing to do is to ensure that the community has someone on the ballot to represent them. That’s why we’re going to help secure a candidate to run as an independent. We’ll be helping them to get the petitions signed to do that.”
We applaud the Georgia House Caucus for taking the initiative in finding an independent candidate to run against Gerald Greene. Voters deserve a choice in that district, and we hope they get it.