Maria Palacios’ citizenship at question in Secretary of State ruling

By Nick Bowman | Gainsville Times | May 21, 2018
  
As the primary runs down to the wire, a Gainesville Democrat is rushing to get back on the ballot after being ruled unqualified to run for office.
 
Until Friday, 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 on 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.
 
Georgia state law holds that a candidate must be a citizen of the state for at least two years to qualify as a candidate, but the ACLU of Georgia, which is representing Palacios in a lawsuit filed this week, argue the term “citizen of the state” is up for interpretation.
 
The ACLU filed suit on Sunday 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, six years before she became a U.S. citizen.
 
With the primary election set for Tuesday, ACLU lawyers have requested an emergency stay of Kemp’s decision. Write-in candidates are not allowed in Georgia primaries.
 
Because votes have already been cast in the primary and because Palacios is running unopposed, the ACLU argues there’s no harm in allowing Palacios to move through the Tuesday primary election while the suit is heard between the primary and general elections.