Since World War II (1941-45) third parties in Georgia have played pivotal roles in elections. In 1948 the prosegregation States’ Rights Democratic “Dixiecrat” Party nominee Strom Thurmond received 20.3 percent of the vote in Georgia in his bid for U.S. president. Thurmond garnered a higher percentage of votes in Georgia than in any of the other eight states in which he appeared on the ballot as the Dixiecrat Party nominee, although his vote percentages were higher in the four states (Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Louisiana) where he was the nominee of the Democratic Party. In Georgia, Thurmond’s highest vote percentage was in McDuffie County, where he received 84 percent.
In 1968 George Wallace, a prosegregation candidate, won four states, including Georgia, as the presidential nominee of the American Party. Wallace also won his home state of Alabama as the nominee of the Democratic Party. He won Georgia’s electoral votes with a plurality (42.8 percent) of the vote. Wallace’s highest vote percentage in Georgia occurred in Echols County, where he received 83 percent of the vote.
In 1980 independent presidential candidate John Anderson nearly failed to qualify for the ballot in Georgia. By the end of September 1980, Anderson had qualified for the ballot in every state except Georgia. The state told Anderson that he had failed to collect the required 57,539 signatures to get on the ballot in Georgia, even though his campaign had submitted 70,849 petition signatures to the secretary of state’s office. On September 26, 1980, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled that Anderson’s due process rights had been violated and ordered that he be placed on the Georgia ballot. Partly because of his late placement on the ballot, Anderson’s campaign did not generate the same level of support as in other parts of the country. Anderson received 6.6 percent of the national vote in the 1980 presidential election but only 2.3 percent in Georgia. Anderson’s highest vote percentage in Georgia occurred in Clarke County, where he received 5.3 percent of the vote.
After a period of inactivity, third parties emerged as political players in Georgia politics during the 1990s, as the state electorate became more evenly divided between the Democratic and Republican parties. In 1992 and 1996 the U.S. Senate candidates of the pro–civil liberties and free market Libertarian Party received enough votes to prevent the leading major party candidates from receiving a majority of the vote. In fact, the 3 percent Libertarian vote for U.S. Senate in 1992 forced Democrat Wyche Fowler and Republican Paul Coverdell into Georgia’s first general-election runoff for statewide office. After the 1992 election the Georgia legislature passed a law lowering the vote-percentage threshold required for the top candidate to avoid a general election runoff from 50 to 45. This change in the law allowed Democrat Max Cleland to avoid a general-election runoff for U.S. Senate in 1996, even though he received less than 50 percent of the vote because of the presence of a Libertarianon the ballot.
In addition to the Libertarians, the Southern Party was active in protesting the 2001 removal of the Confederate battle emblem from the Georgia state flag. Moreover, the fledgling environmentalist Green Party ran an active write-in campaign for governor in 2002 and sought to obtain official legal recognition for the 2004 elections.
The state of Georgia grants legal recognition to two different types of political organizations: political bodies and political parties. A “political body” is an organization that either collects petition signatures or receives a vote total for any statewide candidate in a general election equal to 1 percent of the total number of registered voters in Georgia. Political bodies are permitted to place candidates on the ballot for statewide office only. In district-office races, such as for the General Assembly and U.S. House, third parties are required to collect petition signatures equal to 5 percent of the registered voters in the district. No third-party candidate has appeared on the ballot in Georgia for the U.S. House of Representatives since the 5 percent requirement became law in 1943. In order to become a legal political party with full ballot-access rights, a political body must receive 20 percent of the vote for governor or president in a general election.
The Libertarian Party has retained political-body status in every general election since 1988. The Reform Party earned political body status in 1996 because of Ross Perot’s 6.4 percent of the vote for president in Georgia, but the party failed to receive enough votes in the 1998 elections to retain the status.