Third Parties

Launching a Real Third Party in Election Year: Even with Trump as a Motivator, Near Impossible

But those into small government and the Constitution who can't abide Trump, never fear: The Libertarian Party already exists with ballot access in a majority of states.


Nick Gillespie wrote earlier today about libertarian legal whiz Randy Barnett's call in today's USA Today for a new, anti-Trump party dedicated to the Constitution to provide a home for voters who can't stomach him or, presumably, a Party whose voters nominated him.

I wrote back in January about some of the legal and cost barricades toward Michael Bloomberg's talk of an independent presidential run. Even today, none of them are impossibly insurmountable if you have a ton of money to hire people to run signature-collecting drives.

However, running an entire new third party with a slate of candidates beyond just the president, as Barnett is suggesting, is an even more difficult legal row to hoe, and in fact seems to likely be full on impossible starting from March 1.

A brief survey of such legal issues, focusing on ballot access signature collection and deadlines, follows, with facts derived from a not-online issue of the irreplaceable Ballot Access News.

Deadlines for signature collection are already past or utterly impossible for full party slates in these states: Alabama (today), Arizona (two days from now), California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma (today), Utah, and Vermont. Montana and South Dakota both have deadlines before the end of this month that are likely not possible.

And for 21 states, the signature requirements are higher, often very much higher, for full party slates than for just presidential candidates.

And according to Richard Winger, longtime editor of Ballot Access News, there isn't even any legal way to start in a presidential election year and get on the ballot as a new party in Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

Winger clarifies in an email, in most of those states:

the group must first nominate candidates and then circulate a candidate petition. And if the candidate receives a certain percentage of the vote, then and only then does the group become a qualified party.

So, qualified party status is impossible to attain, for the group's first election.

It's even worse in New York, Indiana, and Kentucky.  A group formed in a presidential year cannot attain qualified party status in New York or Indiana before that presidential election, and furthermore no matter how well its candidates do in that presidential year election (even if it wins!) it still can't be a qualified party for another 2 years.  New York requires a certain vote for Governor, which of course only comes up once every 4 years.  Indiana is the same, but the office is Secretary of State, also a midterm year-only office.

Barnett has been long and loudly on record as objecting to the existence of a third party that seems, on the surface at least, to do what he's asking: the Libertarian Party (L.P.).

In the past it has been, roughly, because he believed the existence of the L.P. inevitably peeled voters away from the Republicans, the very voters who supported positive, libertarian-leaning (dare I say, mostly constitutionalist?) tendencies and candidates in that Party, thus making one of the only parties that can win elections in our non-parliamentary, first-past-the-post system worse in liberty terms.

Now that he's explicitly saying that we need a Party to do such peeling of voters with such commitments from a Trumpized GOP, he still won't just say that such voters might want to think of going for the already existing Party that's already leaped over all these Third Party ballot access barricades detailed above in 34 states for this year, according to Ballotpedia   31 states as of today, according to the L.P. itself, down from its 2012 48 states, but the Party is confident based on required signature numbers and deadlines that they'll get enough signatures for many more, likely exceeding last round's 48, by the time it's all over.

I will suggest that such voters who can't imagine supporting Trump, or the Party that nominated him, do remember that the Libertarian Party already exists. That's certainly a more realistic choice than launching another third party with constitutionalist convictions. (Though Barnett has previously, in a non-Trump context, made convincing arguments that actual libertarian change in American politics in anything like our current situation will likely require electing politicans who are not hardcore libertarian.)

Curiously, there already was a "major party" in recent American history with the name that Barnett uses to refer to his fantasy one. The national Constitution Party (a largely religious-based right-wing party) has a Colorado branch whose official name is "American Constitution Party."

And after they ran once-and-future Republican Tom Tancredo for governor on their ticket in 2010, they got 36 percent of the vote, trouncing Republican Dan Maes' 11 percent. Beating 10 percent in the governor's race got them official major party ballot status in the state, which they lost in 2014 when they didn't even run anyone for governor.

In an amusing irony, as related in this Associated Press account from 2011, the legal requirements for being a major party in the state weighed heavily on this very small and underfinanced operation:

With only 4,134 members, the ACP has had to create a 21-member central committee, elect an executive committee and set up party committees in each of Colorado's 64 counties. In exchange, the party gets a place at or near the top of the ballot in the next gubernatorial election in 2014.

"We keep asking Secretary of State Scott Gessler what's the benefit of being a major party. We get a higher position on the ballot, but if that's the only thing, it's not worth it," said Amanda Campbell, the ACP's treasurer and an executive board member.

Being a major party brings major responsibilities, like filing detailed campaign finance reports, hiring lawyers to interpret complicated state and federal reporting requirements, and holding primaries and caucuses.

But according to the secretary of state's website, the ACP had just $817 in the bank as of April 15….

I wrote back in 2004 on third parties as a consumption expense.

NEXT: Trump Feeling Super on Super Tuesday, Rubio Braces for Disappointment, Dark Tower Movie in the Works: P.M. Links

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  1. Brian, you are a truly unsung hero of the reason staff for dutifully covering a beat as wonky and low-profile as third parties.

  2. I was miffed by this too. We need a new party? Surely it would not take a very large influx of reasonable people, fleeing the Donald and Hillary, to make the libertarian party kick ass. Why does this option not even rate a mention from Barnett?

    1. Gary Johnson is even a gormer GOP governor, so it isnt like the presumed nominee would be way off the reservation.

      1. I got off my butt and gave him some money today. I know he hasn't got a chance in hell, but there's going to be lots of disaffected folks looking around for SOMEONE who isn't a loony or a power-hungry liar, and Johnson's both a real politician with some street cred and apparently an actual nice guy (unlike Mcafee, who also seems to be a loony if the article about him in Wired is any indication).

        Second the motion about the coverage of the debate, which apparently happened on the 27th.

        1. There's an upcoming debate on Fox business later this month. Penciled around the 27th. On fox! Where normal people might actually watch. It's going to be 3 people, GJ, AP, and McAfee. So it won't look like total tin foil.

          1. I didn't know Adrian Peterson was a Libertarian.

      2. And he beat Democrats in a Democratic state...TWICE!
        And he even had opposition in his own party on his first run.

        1. ^ This

          If libertarians dont vote for this guy with this c.v. plus the fact he left NM in better shape coming out than going in then just, well, hang your heads in shame.

          As far as peeling away votes from the GOP, just one more reason to vote for the guy.

          1. Any super PAC funding for Gary Johnson? Some national ads could let people know they have a reasonable choice in the Trump-Clinton-Other race.

    2. Oh, is there a third party called the Libertarian Party? Hmm, imagine that.

  3. This is the worst batch of candidates in my lifetime. If NOW is not the time for a third party then there won't be one.

    Recruit Mark Cuban for the LP, for crying out loud.

    BUT NOOOOO! The Peanut Gallery prefers a TEAM RED! asshole.

    1. You mean the douchebag that wanted Bloomberg to run in '08?

      Riiiiiiight, he's the one we want.

      1. You could do worse than Cuban (maybe not as the LP nominee, but generally)...just saying.

    2. You were born after 2004?

      1. PB wasn't born. His kind reproduces by fission.

        1. Can an algorithm reproduce?

          1. No, but bacteria can.

      2. 2004 was awful. I have said that here before.

    3. The Peanut Gallery prefers a TEAM RED! asshole.

      John is not the peanut gallery.

    4. Cuban would probably be good, but Gary Johnson seems like he could appeal to right and left in a way that Trump or Clinton can't.

  4. As someone asked in a thread earlier today, has Reason written anything about the Libertarian debate Saturday? I doubt I'm going to read about it at CNN. Reason? Hello?

    1. I guess reason prefers to devote bandwidth to people with an actual shot in hell of winning an election?

      1. If a chance in hell of winning is the criterion, why report on Libertarian anything? It's DOOM all the way down buddy.

        1. Libertarian shit is never gonna happen, but libertarian shit happens all the time.

          1. True enough. Best Libertarian koan I ever heard.

          2. "Libertarian shit" is what liberals call it when they screw up.

        2. If that's the criteria, I expect we've seen our last Sanders article.

          And our last Kasich andd Rubio articles. Maybe even the last Cruz article.

          1. As well as the last Trump article.

      2. Circular reasoning. The LP could have the least objectionable candidate in the race, and the only one who was actually a state governor, so hence the most qualified.

  5. I wonder how far along the road to an electable slate of congresscritters we would be if the go-along-to-get-along crowd had eschewed the GOP and concentrated their efforts on growing the LP, contra Barnett.

    1. About the same as we are now. The moderate libertarians need to work in the Republican party to have a chance. The radical libertarians need to stay in the LP, and proclaim freedom as loudly as possible. A moderate LP ticket only peels away votes. A radical LP ticket spreads the message and is more newsworthy.

  6. Bob Barr deserves another chance!!! -more people than I would have thought

    1. Does your ceiling not have enough holes or something

    2. On the Acosmist comment scale of "whiny non sequitors" (1) to "unexplained deflection and defensiveness" (10), this comment rates a 3.

  7. You never know. This might be the LP's year.


    1. +1 flying car
      +2 Cold fusion
      +3 AI.

      1. A libertarian major party is just two decades election cycles away!

    2. No, it really could. Why the heck not? Because the LP is running a kook? No, that's the Republicans. Because the LP is running a crook? No, that's the Democrats.

  8. Being a major party brings major responsibilities, like filing detailed campaign finance reports, hiring lawyers to interpret complicated state and federal reporting requirements, and holding primaries and caucuses.

    Not if you're the "FTS Party"!

  9. The revcontent ads are getting disturbing

  10. When I turned 18 (a year after 2008 election) I sure never thought my first two presidential ballots would be cast for Gary's Johnson, but here we are again.

    1. You were born in 91 as well? Ive been following Austin Peterson as well. I'm not sure who will come out with the lp nod.

    2. I made the mistake of voting for McCain in my first election and then GJ in 12 and likely 16.

    3. I made the mistake of voting for McCain in my first election and then GJ in 12 and likely 16.

  11. John McAfee

    Now More Than Ever

    1. Dude Is Insane

      All The Taste Twice The Price

      1. "A Troubled Man For Troubled Times"

  12. Guess who said this:

    "The logic of encryption will bring us to a place in the not too distant future where all of our conversations and all our papers and effects are entirely private."

    1. Wow, just wow, the level of either ignorance or feigned ignorance from this fucktard continues to amaze me:

      Comey also testified that he had not considered that China might follow the US's lead in compelling Apple to provide access to customer data, even as he is challenged to thwart Chinese-attributed cyber-attacks. "I have no doubt there are internal implications," Comey said.

      Good grief!

    2. Kurt G?del?

    3. Hitler? Is it Hitler?

  13. There's honestly no excuse for failing to have ballot access in all 50 states. That should be a primary issue, from November 7, 2012 onward.

  14. Brian Doherty, you ought to remind your fellow staff members who don't want to vote about all of that.

    And you ought to cover "Debunking the Lesser-of-Two-Evils Voting Theory".

  15. OT: Drug dealers will be executed by force-feeding them their own supply

    Interesting approach. Perhaps politicians can be driven out of office by force-feeding them their own bullshit?

  16. thus making one of the only parties that can win elections in our non-parliamentary system worse in liberty terms

    Don't confuse parliamentary systems with proportional elections. The former is a system for selecting the executive. The latter is a system for selecting the legislature. Many parliamentary governments use a form of proportional elections. The UK and many commonwealth countries use district elections.

    A minor change that would help would be a majority victory requirement. Currently many jurisdictions allow plurality victories leading to the lesser-of-two-evils voting pressure.

    1. I don't know how run-off voting would fare in this country. "What do you mean, I have to go to the polls again?" followed by "I already voted for the guy I want!" or "The guy I want isn't on the ballot any more!". IRV, long favored by the LP, is not without its problems, either. Moreover, IRV and other "indirect" voting systems like STV may run afoul of the "one man, one vote" rule.

      1. Organize the election like March Madness with head-to-head single-elimination rounds.

        1. How would that work, exactly? And how would it meet the "majority victory requirement"?

          1. That was just a suggestion for generating interest. You could also increase interest by making each head-to-head a cage match.

          2. Just ban voting.

        2. Damn - with enough candidates and the proper scheduling, we could make elections last 4 years. That just might work.

    2. A better change would be massively expanding - tripling it to start - the House of Representatives. Reducing the size of districts allows third parties to start small with a locally focused effort that doesn't require as much money. And it also dilutes the power of the major parties because their brand is often tarnished in smaller locales.

      And if smaller states resist that move because of its effects on the electoral college, then increase the size of the Senate too. And make both legiatures more unwieldy and more difficult for the major parties to control.

      1. Changing the size of the House requires congressional action. Changing the size of the Senate requires a change to the Constitution. States can impose majority victory requirements on their own.

  17. Let me go out on a limb here, and I'm playing a completely hypothetical fantasy, but as backroom political deals go I could see this work:

    The Libertarian Party, with its 50 state ballot access does a deal with Mitt Romney as long as he stands willing to let libertarian issues become a legitimate part of the dialogue. He takes Gary Johnson or Rand Paul as VP. After being proven correct on so many foreign policy issues (and others), it would be easy to get Republicans and disaffected Democrats to jump ship. At his age, Romney would be a one-term president, or could do two-years-and-a-day then retire so Johnson/Paul could still do two more terms.

    Sure, I know Romney isn't a libertarian, but he's a practical and fair dealing guy who could actually have a shot in a Trump/Clinton or Trump/Sanders general election, and it could put the party on the map.

    1. Even if Romney were to do it (and he wouldn't), I don't see him exciting enough people for a competitive third-party run. There's not going to be a lot of air left in the room in a Trump/Clinton matchup and anyone "sensible" enough not to vote for either of them is likely not the sort to vote for a third party anyway. Honestly, Sanders has a better shot at a third-party run than just about anyone else this election cycle, and his libertarian bona fides can be summed up as "well, he's not a communist".

  18. The Libertarian Party already exists with ballot access in a majority of states.

    WHAT?! Those guys put up real weirdos as candidates.

    Not like the R's and D's which put up 'serious' ones.

    1. Hell, some of those guys don't even have *experience* crafting legislation.

      1. The problem with Libertarians is that they are not self-righteous enough.

        As an old-geezer Libertarian, I have been around the block, trying to persuade people.

        "I would vote Libertarian, except they aren't hard-ass enough on the illegal humans".

        "...except they don't want to punish abortion doctors harshly enough."

        "?except they are soft on the horrible druggies".

        "?except they don't want to bomb enough un-American ferriners".

        On and on it goes? They ALL agree with us 95%, but they can NOT stop fingering their "war boners" against the 5% that they HATE!!!

        Not to be a Bible-Banger on y'all? But Jesus was right, when he spent not ONE word condemning gays, druggies, etc., but ragged something GAWD-awful on self-righteous and hypocritical bastards!

        1. Grand Central Compromise as proposed by Policy Wonk SQRLSY One:
          Can we find a candidate to appeal to BOTH the Demoblicans (by saying a woman should be allowed to abort if she wants to) and the Republicrats (by saying that money-earners should make their OWN charity choices, minus Government Almighty force)? ? Each give up their favorite war-boners, would be CLOSE to many-many Libertarians?

    2. The Republicans' serious candidate is a reality TV show host.

      The Democrats' serious candidate is a crook.

      The LP could nominate a two-term governor.

  19. The only thing that's worse than two parties is more than two parties, as you can easily see by looking at the history of nations with multi-party systems.

    The problem with our presidential elections isn't the two party system (we do get the occasional third party candidate anyway), the problem is that the stakes are too high, i.e., that the president and the executive branch have amassed too much power. If presidential elections were only about the federal executive and its limited powers as originally envisioned, they just wouldn't matter much.

    1. The only thing that's worse than two parties is more than two parties, as you can easily see by looking at the history of nations with multi-party systems.

      I don't know that this is actually borne out. It's kind of hard to identify causality and pin it on the political dynamics of multi-party systems,

    2. Every country that is freer than we are has multiple parties in their legislature.

      The reason our executive has too much power is because the legislature has been frozen in size since 1910. That means there is no possibility of the legislature exerting effective oversight over the executive because the legislature isn't even large enough to raucously legislate anymore. So every critter runs on 'what they intend to legislate' rather than 'what they intend to oversee/contain'.

      And yes we definitely made a mistake putting a unitary President in the constitution. Both Switzerland and Costa Rica copied most of our constitution but they fixed that problem (a rotating committee in Switzerland and two VP's in Costa Rica).

  20. Trump's crack legal team sends cease and desist letter to PAC over ads produced by a completely different PAC

    Is a clown still a clown when he shows no self-awareness about being a clown?

  21. So there is no libertarian moment?

    If there was ever a time in the recent past for a third party, this is it. Trump, Clinton and massive unfavorables. If Ron Paul was younger, and he ran as an independent, I would bet he could be competitive.

    But instead, you all decided to be part of the GOP. You usually ignore the LP (Gary Johnson who?) and seemed to have thought you could reform the GOP. Well, GOP voters want reform, and rejected Rand for Trump for that reform.

    Well, you summarized your stance on the last sentence. Third parties are just an expense. Then you deserve what you get. And what you don't get is a libertarian moment.

    1. Not even a libertarian picosecond?

      1. No, there is no libertarian picosecond, even, because about 99% of American voters fall into 2 self-righteous camps: '1) Demoblicans who are too self-righteous to let private wage-earners make their own charity choices, and to decide whether or not they want to own a gun, and '2) Republicrats who are too self-righteous to allow women to decide whether or not to abort, and are also too self-righteous to allow me to decide whether or not I should be allowed to hire an "illegal human" to mow my yard. And '3) A huge bunch of BOTH of the preceding are too self-righteous to allow me to decide whether or not I can smoke pot, or snort coke.

        So they all SAY nice things about "freedom" and "liberty", but in reality, they are all too self-righteous to vote for said noble concepts. So the march towards dictatorship (Trumpian or Clintonian, or Markist-Sanderian, "machs nix", it is all dictatorship) proceeds apace.

        1. There are a lot of reasonable people out there too.

  22. ...And hey there all you small-l libertarians out there...have you ever heard of the Libertarian party?!!

  23. Hey, let's all take over the LP and give it a shiny new, fascist platform!

    1. I bet an authentic fascist platform would get Tony's and Jackand Ace's vote.

      As long as it didn't use the F word.

  24. Barnett sows the wind and he reaps the whirlwind. He's talked for years about how working within the Republican Party is best, but it's gotten him Scalia (who ruled against him and the Constitution in Raich), Roberts (who upheld Obamacare twice), and the gentleman from New York as the GOP standard bearer. He should follow his own arguments and lobby to be part of a Trump administration to try to make change from the inside.

    The Libertarian Party is poised to be on all 50 state ballots in November, has much more sane candidates than the clowns in the clown show being put on by the two old parties, and is the only political party growing.

    I'm glad Barnett finally noticed it was useful to have a third party. Luckily we've already built one and it's still going strong in its 45th year. I'm happy to accept his apology. My address, for convenience:

    Nicholas J. Sarwark
    Chairman, Libertarian National Committee
    1444 Duke Street
    Alexandria, VA 22314

    And for those of you who would like to be part of the solution and stop being part of the problem,

    1. My advice? Get Reason to spend half as much time on Libertarians as they do on the GOP.

      Good luck.

  25. I'm old enough to remember when the Libertarian Party was proud of its third-party status and mentioned frequently the large number of Libertarians in more local offices, like county commissions and the like. That's where the true grassroots is located and that's where liberty-minded people should put their efforts. Get people comfortable with a third party then start for the larger goals such as US Representative.

    It could still work.

    ... Hobbit

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