Why you can still vote for Presidential candidates who have “dropped out”

In person early voting starts today in Georgia and Republican voters may be surprised to see a lot of extra names on their ballot. In addition to Nikki Haley and Donald Trump, there’s Tim Scott and Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis. There is also Ryan Binkley and David Stuckenberg (who???). So why are so many candidates who have “dropped out” still on the ballot? There are two reasons:

  1. Most of these candidates did not “drop out” but “suspended their campaigns, and
  2. The names were submitted to the Secretary of State in November of 2023 before many had suspended their campaigns.

There is a legal difference between ending and suspending a campaign for President. Most of the candidates like DeSantis, Scott, and Christie have only suspended their campaigns, meaning they stopped campaigning, but they can unsuspend their campaigns at any time. It also means they can continue to raise money to pay off debt they may have incurred. Finally, with an open seat for President in 2028, they can unsuspend for that campaign too as their campaign organizations are not tied to a specific election year.

The second issue is a little more problematic. We all know (or you are about to know) that the way partisan candidates get on the ballot in Georgia for everything from statewide to the local level races is by signing up with either the Republican or Democratic Party during qualifying week. This also includes paying a qualifying fee equal to 3% of the salary of the position sought. For Presidential campaigns, it’s a little different.

For the Presidential Preference Primary, State Law requires the Executive Committees of the Political Parties to vote on which names will appear on the ballot and submit those names to the Secretary of State. This is governed under O.C.G.A § 21-2-193 which states:

On a date set by the Secretary of State, but not later than 60 days preceding the date on which a presidential preference primary is to be held, the state executive committee of each party which is to conduct a presidential preference primary shall submit to the Secretary of State a list of the names of the candidates of such party to appear on the presidential preference primary ballot. Such lists shall be published on the website of the Secretary of State during the fourth week immediately preceding the date on which the presidential preference primary is to be held.

In 2003 as a Vice-Chair of the Georgia Republican Party, again in 2007 as State Chair of the Georgia Young Republicans, and finally in 2019 as Chair of the Over 80K Caucus, I have participated in this process as a Member of the Executive Committee of the Georgia Republican Party. In 2007 and 2019, only one candidate was submitted, George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump. In 2007, we had the our list of candidates who were running and had notified the Georgia Republican Party of their candidacy, but we also had Executive Committee member who threw in a wild card. Former Ambassador Alan Keyes, who had run for President before and had most recently lost the U.S. Senate election in Illinois to Barack Obama was NOT running for President in 2008, but one of our Executive Committee members though he might, so we threw him on the ballot too. His campaign never materialized, but he still received a handful of votes in Georgia.

I say this issue was a little more problematic as the Secretary of State’s office, noting that several of the candidates had suspended their campaigns, asked GAGOP Chairman Josh McKoon if the Party wanted to revise its submission. As 11Alive reported:

However, in a Nov. 16 email to the state Republican Party, a representative from the Secretary of State’s Office wrote that they had “identified at least two candidates who have already announced their withdrawal from the presidential race. Please advise whether the names of withdrawn candidates can be excluded.”

The letter went on the say that, “The more names that appear on the ballot, the greater the risk that the ballot will appear crowded and unclear to voters.” The representative expressed concern that “the issue increases the likelihood that voters will mistakenly vote for a candidate who has withdrawn, leading to possible disenfranchisement of Republican voters.”

But, that same day the party replied, “They would be moving forward with the list voted on by our State Executive Committee.” 

The Party’s answer may have reflected more of a logistical issue than a simple unwillingness. To remove candidates would require another Executive Committee meeting to re-vote on the names with enough time to issue a meeting call before the final deadline. There is also no precedent for removing names. My advice to voters in the 11Alive story linked above was, “whether it’s the presidential preference primary or the general election —  research the candidates, know what they stand for, know who’s in, and make that that informed decision.”

Additionally, while votes for candidates who are no longer campaigning may be seen as a wasted vote, they may also serve as the opportunity to voice protest votes for GOP voters who are not satisfied with the two candidates who are still in the race. While the candidates my not unsuspend their campaigns based on receiving a few protest votes, it will send a message that the candidates still need to do a better job reaching out to the supporters of their former opponents to make sure there is a united base in November.

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