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ACLU fighting to get disqualified Democrat back on ballot in state House race
Maria Palacios’ citizenship at issue in secretary of state ruling
Maria Palacios 2018.jpg
Maria Palacios

As the primary runs down to the wire, a Gainesville Democrat is looking to get back on the ballot after being ruled unqualified to run for office.

Until Friday, May 18, Maria Palacios was running as a Democrat in the primary for Georgia House District 29. Running unopposed, Palacios was lined up to face Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, and independent challenger Nancy Stead in the November general election.

But on Friday, Secretary of State Brian Kemp signed an order declaring Palacios was unqualified to run for office because she didn’t become a U.S. citizen until 2017. Kemp and his office have ruled that because Palacios hasn’t been a citizen for more than two years, she doesn’t meet the state requirements for public office.

The Georgia statute quoted by the secretary of state’s office states, “At the time of their election, the members of the House of Representatives shall be citizens of the United States, shall be at least 21 years of age, shall have been citizens of this state for at least two years, and shall have been legal residents of the territory embraced within the district from which elected for at least one year.”

The ACLU of Georgia, which is representing Palacios in a lawsuit filed this week, argues the term “citizens of this state” is up for interpretation.

The ACLU filed suit on Sunday, May 20, against Kemp in Georgia Superior Court of Fulton County.

“For centuries, courts around the country have recognized that ‘citizen of a state’ means someone who is either a resident or a domiciliary of that state. The Georgia Constitution requires that candidates for the State House of Representatives be citizens of the state for at least two years at the time of the election,” stated the ACLU of Georgia in its filing to the Superior Court.

The ACLU filing acknowledges that Georgia state law isn’t settled on the subject, as the Georgia Supreme Court has never ruled on what makes someone a “citizen” of the state, but notes that supreme court rulings in other states have ruled that simply living in the state qualifies a candidate and that “citizenship” doesn’t refer strictly to legal status.

Palacios has lived in Gainesville since 2009, eight years before she became a U.S. citizen.

After the ACLU requested an emergency stay of Kemp’s decision, that motion was withdrawn Monday, May 21, after the ACLU and the secretary of state’s office agreed that if the state is overruled by the courts and Palacios is determined to be qualified, she’ll appear on the general election ballot because she has already won primary votes through early voting.

Sean Young, legal director for ACLU of Georgia, said on Monday, he expects the Superior Court to give plenty of time for the case to be decided before the general election in November.