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A ballot question of the President
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In other states, voters are trying to decide whether Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul will be the Republican nominee who runs against President Barack Obama in this fall’s election.

In Georgia, we are still trying to decide whether Obama should even be allowed on the election ballot. Our state has become the latest arena for a bizarre argument that has been going on since Obama first ran for president in 2008.

There are a group of people called “birthers,” who espouse the belief that Obama is not a natural-born citizen of these United States and therefore is not eligible either to run or serve as president.

The evidence is overwhelming and widely accepted that Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961 and is fully eligible to run for president. Among the birthers, however, hope springs eternal. They have filed numerous legal actions at the federal and state level trying to find a judge who will agree with them that Obama is not a citizen, but to no avail.

Several local birthers filed complaints about Obama late last year with Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Georgia’s chief elections officer. Kemp forwarded the complaints to an administrative law judge for a hearing on whether Obama’s name should be on the ballot for the presidential preference primary scheduled for March 6.

Judge Michael Malihi held a hearing on Jan. 26 for the birthers and their attorneys, who include California lawyer Orly Taitz. Neither Obama nor his Georgia attorney, Michael Jablonski, bothered to show up.

“It is well established that there is no legitimate issue here — a conclusion validated time and again by courts around the country,” Jablonski wrote prior to the hearing.

That attitude did not sit well with Kemp, who warned Jablonski that if he and the president sat out the hearing, “you do so at your own peril.”

The hearing proceeded with Malihi taking testimony from assorted experts on forged birth certificates and bogus social security numbers. Exultant birthers were convinced that the judge would rule in their favor, especially after the disrespect Obama had displayed by boycotting the proceedings.

Late last week, the judge issued his findings: Obama’s name should remain on the Georgia ballot. “He became a citizen at birth and is a natural born citizen,” Malihi said.

His ruling was in line with the decisions of every other judge who has looked at the “evidence” and concluded that the president was born in Hawaii in 1961, which makes him a citizen, just like every other human being who is born on American soil.

“The Court finds the testimony of the witnesses, as well as the exhibits tendered, to be of little, if any, probative value, and thus wholly insufficient to support Plaintiffs’ allegations,” Malihi said in his decision. That’s a polite way of telling the birthers:  “You got nothing.”

You might think that the judge’s decision would be the end of the affair, but you would be mistaken. The secretary of state, as it turns out, still has a role to play in this.

There was a similar election law controversy back in 2000 when Randy Sauder, a Republican member of the Legislature, decided on the last day of qualifying that he would switch parties and run for another term as a Democrat.

Republican Party officials said Sauder should not be allowed to run as a Democrat and some high-powered legal counsel was brought in to argue the case against him: former attorney general Mike Bowers.

An administrative law judge held a hearing and recommended to the secretary of state, Cathy Cox, that Sauder’s name be taken off the ballot. Cox rejected the judge’s recommendation, however, and ruled that Sauder would be allowed to run as a Democrat.

The name of that administrative law judge was Michael Malihi.

The current secretary of state has the same leeway to ignore Malihi’s latest finding, if he so chooses, and declare that Obama’s name cannot appear on the presidential primary ballot in Georgia. If he does that, of course, a federal judge most likely will step in and overrule him, but Kemp nevertheless has that option.

Whichever way Kemp rules, he will have to act quickly. March 6 will be here before you know it.

(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.)