More Election Officials Say Efforts to Keep Trump Off the Ballot Are a No-Go

A number of groups are petitioning secretaries of state to pull President Trump from their primary ballots.
More Election Officials Say Efforts to Keep Trump Off the Ballot Are a No-Go
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives at the Monument Leaders Rally hosted by the South Dakota Republican Party in Rapid City, S.D., on Septt. 8, 2023. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Catherine Yang
9/15/2023
Updated:
9/15/2023
0:00

Liberal groups have been trying to drum up support for barring former President Trump from seeking office again since 2021, arguing that his actions on Jan. 6 constituted an “insurrection” that disqualify him from running for reelection as per the 14th Amendment. The group Free Speech for People sent letters to top election officials in all states that year, garnering little momentum for the idea.

But recently, as the former president and GOP frontrunner continues to lead in the polls, the idea has picked up steam again, and a number of groups are petitioning secretaries of state to pull President Trump from their primary ballots, while legal experts opine in various media outlets.

However, secretaries of state have refuted the idea, insisting they have no jurisdiction over the matter.

In New Hampshire, Michigan, Georgia, Minnesota, and Arizona, election officials have already shot down the idea. In Florida, one such petition was thrown out when the judge said she had no jurisdiction over the matter. Some have pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of the matter, while others have dismissed the idea entirely as a longshot bound to fail.

The 14th Amendment, ratified after the Civil War, gave equal protection under the law to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. It added a section that allowed the federal government to punish states that infringed on a citizen’s right to vote, and a third section that disqualified those who participated in the rebellion or insurrection against the nation to hold office, unless two-thirds of Congress made an exception for the candidate.

Georgia

Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wrote in a Sept. 6 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that this 14th Amendment disqualification was not in line with Georgia law, which demands a different process before a candidate can be removed from the ballot.

He wrote that the entire scheme could only serve to lessen voter confidence.

“Anyone who believes in democracy must let the voters decide,” he wrote, adding that this was the lesson the last presidential election spotlighted.

President Trump won Georgia in 2016, and lost it in 2020, after which he challenged the result and sought an investigation into alleged voter fraud. The contest has now become the subject of President Trump’s fourth indictment, which charges him and 18 co-defendants with racketeering for those actions.

In the 2018 elections, Democrats were the ones to sue after losing an election, with Stacey Abrams arguing that she wrongly lost the governor’s seat to Brian Kemp.

Mr. Raffensperger highlighted both challenges as reasons a 14th Amendment petition would, and should fail.

“Invoking the 14th Amendment is merely the newest way of attempting to short-circuit the ballot box,” he wrote. “For a secretary of state to remove a candidate would only reinforce the grievances of those who see the system as rigged and corrupt. Denying voters the opportunity to choose is fundamentally un-American.”

Michigan

Michigan’s Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson wrote in a Sept. 13 op-ed in the Washington Post that the view that President Trump should be disqualified was “nearly universal,” yet “misguided.”

“Whether Trump is eligible to run for president again is a decision not for secretaries of state but for the courts,” Ms. Benson wrote. “Significant counterarguments, along with practical considerations, make this theory far from a slam dunk.”

She noted that whether he “engaged in insurrection” had not been determined, and that pending criminal cases will examine and decide this. But President Trump has not been charged with engaging in insurrection and rebellion; a federal criminal case against him in Washington charges him with conspiracy, and a similar state case in Georgia charges him with racketeering.

Ms. Benson also explained that in Michigan, the law allows any individuals “generally advocated by the national news media to be potential presidential candidates” to appear on the ballot.

“Beyond that, it’s silent on candidate qualifications and eligibility, as are many other states’ laws,” she wrote.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s Republican Secretary of State David Scanlan held a press conference on Sept. 13 to give a statement to the media after politicians recently voiced their support for or against removing President Trump from the ballot.

“Nothing in our state statue that gives the secretary of state the discretion in entertaining qualification issues once a candidate swears under the penalty of perjury that they meet the qualifications to be president,” he said, dismissing the 14th Amendment strategy as it applies to New Hampshire.

He said such a disqualification would have to apply to all states, or no states at all, and that it was up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide that.

He said “chaos, confusion, anger, and frustration” would ensue if any candidate was present on one state’s ballot but not another.

“At a time when we need U.S. election officials to ensure transparency and build confidence among voters around the country, the delegate selection process should not be the battleground to test this constitutional question,” he added.

Minnesota

Minnesota’s Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon said on NPR that he didn’t have the authority to keep President Trump, or anyone else, off the ballot.

“Well, this is an eligibility question. It’s an eligibility argument that he is constitutionally ineligible because of the 14th Amendment language that you summarized. The problem is that the Office of Secretary of State in Minnesota is not the eligibility police,” he said.

“A lot of people are surprised to know that, but we are not in a position legally, we don’t have the authority legally to make eligibility determinations of any kind, whether that’s residents, whether that’s age, or something else like this.”

Minnesota law requires a petition to strike someone from the ballot, he added, recounting a similar challenge in 2016. A petition was filed arguing state Rep. Bob Barrett didn’t live in the district he was elected to represent, and the state’s supreme court ruled in the petitioner’s favor, ruling Mr. Barrett ineligible to run for reelection 80 days before the 2016 election.

Mr. Simon explained that the state law allows “any individual” to bring forth such a petition.

“That’s as broad an invitation I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Four days later, liberal group Free Speech for the People, representing the individual petitioners, filed the lawsuit in Minnesota.

Arizona

Arizona’s Democrat Secretary of State Adrian Fontes said in August that he had no authority to keep President Trump off the state’s primary ballot, because of an Arizona Supreme Court ruling.

“The Arizona Supreme Court said that because there’s no statutory process in federal law to enforce Section 3 of the 14th amendment, you can’t enforce it,“ Mr. Fontes said. ”That’s what the Arizona Supreme Court said. That’s the state of the law in Arizona. Now, do I agree with that? No. That’s stupid.”

“I’m going to follow the law,” he said. ”Whether I like it or not is irrelevant.”

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