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By Willoughby Mariano January 17, 2012

Georgia Democrats say Republicans trying to knock Obama off ballot

Georgia Democrats are telling their party faithful that Republicans are already trying to play election-year political tricks on President Barack Obama.

And if GOP efforts work, state Democrats won’t even get to vote for Obama for president, Democrats warn.

"Republicans are attempting to remove Barack Obama from Georgia’s Presidential Ballot in 2012," read a Dec. 21 post on the state party’s website.

Then the post asked for money to pay for legal bills.

A reader asked us to put the Democrats’ statement to the test, and we were happy to help. With a little reporting, we found that four Georgia residents are challenging Obama’s eligibility for the state presidential preference primary and general election ballots.

They’re saying Obama isn’t a natural-born citizen, which would mean that under the Constitution, he’s not eligible to be president. Critics of this line of thought call some of these people "birthers," a term these challengers by and large reject.

David Farrar of Cedartown in west Georgia thinks Obama’s biggest problem is that there needs to be proof in addition to the president’s birth certificate confirming he was born in the U.S.

Kevin Powell of Duluth, Carl Swensson of Morrow and David Welden of Powder Springs think that Obama does not meet the constitutional definition of a natural-born citizen. Powell and Swensson say they can cite U.S. Supreme Court precedent to prove it.

A fifth challenger rescinded his complaint, said Kim Beal, a staff attorney with the Office of State Administrative Hearings, which is handling the challenges. A hearing is set for Jan. 26.

"Man up," Swensson’s challenge told Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Kemp‘s office administers the state’s elections.

PolitiFact Georgia has addressed such arguments before, and they didn’t do well on the Truth-O-Meter. The claims about Obama’s birth certificate range from False to Pants on Fire. PolitiFact Georgia also found problems with an argument that Obama does not meet the constitutional definition of a natural-born citizen.

But these theories aren’t the focus of this inquiry. We’re trying to figure out whether Democrats are right that Republicans are trying to knock Obama off the ballot.

Obviously, these concerned citizens all want him gone. But are they Republicans? And is this a GOP-sanctioned effort?  

We looked into the challengers’ Republican bona fides.

They emphasized that the Republican Party is not coordinating their efforts. Swensson told  PolitiFact Georgia that he reached out to the party for its support and got none.

"Basically, what I get from them is crickets," Swensson said. "Lots and lots of crickets."

Georgia Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Everhart distanced the state party from the challenges.

"The Georgia Republican Party is not a party to any of those challenges, and had no knowledge of them before they were filed," Everhart said in a statement released by a party spokesman.

The challengers all said their efforts have nothing to do with their party affiliations.

"It’s an entirely nonpartisan effort. It has nothing to do with politics, only to do with the Constitution," said Welden, who said he has voted Republican but leans independent.  

That said, challenges do have significant GOP ties.

State Rep. Mark Hatfield, a Republican attorney from Waycross, represents Powell and Swensson in their challenge. He is vice chairman of the state House’s Judiciary Non-Civil Committee and is listed as the Republicans’ deputy majority whip.

Last year, Hatfield sponsored legislation that would make presidential and vice presidential candidates prove their citizenship to make the state’s ballot.

Swensson is chairman of the Clayton County Republican Party.

Tennessee lawyer Van Irion represents Welden. He ran for Congress in 2010 and won the backing of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. Irion lost in the Republican primary.

Orly Taitz, a California lawyer, represents Farrar. She ran unsuccessfully in 2010 to be the Republican nominee for California secretary of state.

Farrar told PolitiFact Georgia he considers himself a Republican. Voter records show Powell voted in six Georgia primaries between 1996 and 2008 and chose a Republican ballot in all of them.  

How do we rule?

There are efforts to "remove Barack Obama from Georgia’s Presidential Ballot in 2012," as Democrats said.

Whether "Republicans" are trying to do this is a dicier issue. The Georgia Democrats’ language could lead a reasonable person to think that the effort is organized by the GOP.

It’s not. Nevertheless, these challenges are dyed bright red. A GOP state representative does represent two of the challengers, and two unsuccessful Republican candidates from Tennessee and California represent the rest.

One challenger is chairman of his county GOP. Three of the four challengers consider themselves Republicans, and all of them have voted Republican.

Because the state party is not involved in the challenge, but individual Republicans are leading the charge, we rate the Georgia Democrats’ statement Half True. 

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Georgia Democrats website, "Republicans Attempt to Remove President Obama from Georgia Ballot," Dec. 21, 2011

Office of State Administrative Hearings, Challenges to Candidate Qualifications, filed Nov. 21, 2011, through Dec. 9, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Obama's inclusion on Georgia ballot challenged," Dec. 16, 2011

Rockdale Citizen, "5 challenge Obama's inclusion on Ga. ballot," Dec. 18, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution voter database, accessed Jan. 9, 2012

Los Angeles Times, "Activist who challenges Obama's citizenship is booted from Tax Day Tea Party," April 13, 2010

Georgia General Assembly 2011, House Bill 401, accessed March 7, 2011

Chattanooga Times Free Press, "Irion promotes strict views on market, U.S. Constitution," Aug. 6, 2010

Telephone interview, Eric Gray, communications director, Democratic Party of Georgia, Jan. 9, 2012

Telephone interview, Vincent Russo, general counsel, Office of Secretary of State Brian P. Kemp, Jan. 9, 2012

Telephone interview, Kim Beal, staff attorney, Office of State Administrative Hearings, Jan. 11, 2012

Email interview, Chris Kelleher, spokesman, Georgia Republican Party, Jan. 9, 2012

Telephone interview, David Farrar, Obama ballot challenger, Jan. 9, 2012

Telephone interview, David Welden, Obama ballot challenger, Jan. 9, 2012

Telephone interview, Carl Swensson, Obama ballot challenger, Jan. 9, 2012

Email interview, Kevin Powell, Obama ballot challenger, Jan. 10, 2012

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Georgia Democrats say Republicans trying to knock Obama off ballot

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