(a) When any nomination petition is presented in the office of the Secretary of State or of any superintendent for filing within the period limited by this chapter, it shall be the duty of such officer to examine the same to the extent necessary to determine if it complies with the law. No candidate shall be qualified if such nomination petition:
(1) Contains material errors or defects apparent on the face thereof;
(2) Contains material alterations made after signing without the consent of the signers; or
(3) Does not contain a sufficient number of signatures of registered voters as required by law.
The Secretary of State or any superintendent shall review the petition for compliance with the provisions of Code Section 21-2-170 and shall disregard any pages or signatures that are not in conformance with the provisions of that Code section. The Secretary of State or any superintendent may question the genuineness of any signature appearing on a petition or the qualification of any signer whose signature appears thereon and, if he or she shall thereupon find that any such signature is improper, such signature shall be disregarded in determining whether the petition contains a sufficient number of signatures as required by law. The invalidity of any sheet of a nomination petition shall not affect the validity of such petition if a sufficient petition remains after eliminating such invalid sheet.
(b) Upon the filing of a nomination petition, the officer with whom it is filed shall begin expeditiously to examine the petition to determine if it complies with the law. During such examination the officer shall have the right to summon by subpoena on two days' notice and interrogate under oath the candidate named in the petition, any person who signed the petition, any person who executed or witnessed any affidavit or certificate accompanying the petition, or any other person who may have knowledge of any matter relevant to the examination. Such officer shall also have the right to subpoena on two days' notice any record relevant to the examination. No witness shall be compelled to attend if he or she should reside more than 100 miles from the place of hearing by the nearest practical route; provided, however, that the officer may compel the taking of his or her testimony by deposition in the county of the residence of the witness. The sheriff of any county, or his or her deputy, or agent of the officer shall serve all processes issued by the officer, or the same may be served by United States registered or certified mail or statutory overnight delivery; and the production of an appropriate return receipt issued by the United States post office or commercial delivery firm shall constitute prima-facie evidence of such service. In case of the refusal of any person subpoenaed to attend or testify, such fact shall be reported forthwith by the officer to the appropriate superior court, or to a judge thereof, and such court or judge shall order such witness to attend and testify; and, on failure or refusal to obey such order, such witness shall be dealt with as for contempt. Any witness so subpoenaed, and after attending, shall be allowed and paid the same mileage and fee as now allowed and paid witnesses in civil actions in the superior court. The officer shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence in hearing such testimony. The testimony presented shall be stenographically recorded and made a part of the record of the examination. If the petition complies with the law, it shall be granted and the candidate named therein shall be notified in writing. If the petition fails to comply with the law, it shall be denied and the candidate named therein shall be notified of the cause for such denial by letter directed to his or her last known address. In neither case shall the petition be returned to the candidate.
(c) The decision of the officer denying a nomination petition may be reviewed by the superior court of the county containing the office of such officer upon an application for a writ of mandamus to compel the granting of such petition. The application for such writ of mandamus shall be made within five days of the time when the petitioner is notified of such decision. Upon the application being made, a judge of such court shall fix a time and place for hearing the matter in dispute as soon as practicable; and notice thereof shall be served with a copy of such application upon the officer with whom the nomination petition was filed and upon the petitioner. At the time so fixed the court, or any judge thereof assigned for the purpose, shall hear the case. If after such hearing the said court shall find that the decision of the officer was erroneous, it shall issue its mandate to the officer to correct his or her decision and to grant the nomination petition. From any decision of the superior court an appeal may be taken within five days after the entry thereof. It shall be the duty of the appellate court to fix the hearing and to announce its decision within such period of time as will permit the name of the candidate affected by the court's decision to be printed on the ballot if the court should so determine.
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