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Write-ins written off 

Vote count has Green feeling blue

Nannette Garrett just wants her votes counted. Unfortunately, she may have to wait a while.

As of the morning of Nov. 19, the Green Party candidate for governor had received 726 votes. Secretary of State Cathy Cox's office confirmed that was her final tally. The numbers were certified.

By that afternoon, however, Garrett's vote total had climbed to 1,008. She wasn't surprised. She already knew there was a 200-vote discrepancy in DeKalb County alone: Cox's office gave her one number, and the county elections board itself gave her another.

The problem? Certain counties around the state didn't bother to send in write-in numbers.

While candidates on the ballot, and voters as well, had nothing but praise for the debut of computerized voting in Georgia, write-in candidates such as Garrett have reason to grumble.

"Apparently on some of the returns initially that the counties sent, they did not include their write-in totals," says Cara Hodgson, a spokeswoman with Cox's office. "[Elections division head Linda Beasley] is having to go back to those counties and say, 'Send me your write-in totals.'"

Hodgson says Beasley doesn't have a deadline for completing the task but hopes the process will be finished soon. She's "kind of at the mercy of the counties." For many write-in candidates, such a bookkeeping snafu wouldn't be a big deal. Most run as a lark. For Garrett and the Green Party, it's a more serious matter. Because of Georgia's Byzantine ballot access laws, to appear on the ballot and be considered a "political body" in Georgia, a party's candidate must receive at least 1 percent of the vote, about 40,000 votes total.

Garrett doesn't believe she will reach that mark even with a re-count, but an accurate count tells her where the party is growing and where it should focus its grassroots efforts. She adds that she is not currently planning any legal action.

"I believe that [Beasley] personally is trying to push it and get the answers for us," Garrett says. "If I thought she wasn't doing anything, I probably would have already been in the lawyer's office."

For now, Garrett will return to the difficult process of building a viable third party in a system that's built for two. Unlike European countries that have proportional representation -- in which a party that receives 15 percent of the vote, for example, receives 15 percent of the seats in the legislature -- Georgia and the U.S. have a winner-takes-all system.

"From my perception ... I believe the main thing we do is to grasp every single one of those contacts we have and we try to build on them," Garrett says. "We've got new affiliates springing up on college campuses in other counties. We're getting contacts through my website two weeks after the election. There's a lot of outreach and a lot of building."

Green Party Co-Chairman Badili Jones says that this year's election would be a success if Garrett received 2,000 to 3,000 votes "considering the kind of resources at our disposal." Even with national exposure, 2000 Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader received only 13,000 votes in Georgia.

Jones' hope for his party is to one day have enough of a voter base that Democrats or Republicans will tailor their agendas to gain Green Party support. So far in Georgia, only the Libertarians have had any level of success with that strategy. Chris Grant, a government professor at Georgia College and State University, says that even the Libertarians, who have thrown a handful of Georgia elections into run-offs, have received few substantive concessions from Republicans.

"I don't think they've had any impact on the agendas of the major parties," Grant says. "The main thing is the major parties have tried to stop people in Georgia ... from voting Libertarian. They want to emphasize 'Don't throw your vote away.'"

But things may be looking brighter for the Green Party in Georgia. They received some unexpected help from President Bush during this year's election. With Republican gains in both houses of Congress and a shake-up of the Democratic leadership, there's a fight for the ideological soul of the party. In Georgia, it's unlikely that fight will be won by progressives. If the Democrats move further to the right, as party centrists and conservatives like Sen. Zell Miller have suggested, there may be a host of new recruits for the Greens and a greater likelihood that statewide Green candidates will someday have their names on the ballots.

kevin.griffis@creativeloafing.com



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