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Ballot access

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Ballot access for major and minor party candidates
Ballot access information by state
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Ballot access rules regulate the conditions under which a ballot measure, candidate or political party is entitled to appear on voters' ballots. Ballot access laws are typically governed by the states. Ballot access processes can vary significantly depending on the state and type of access sought.[1]

Ballot measures

See also: States with initiative or referendum

A ballot measure is defined as any question or issue of government that is placed before voters on a ballot to approve or reject. Ballot measures can be local or statewide and can encompass anything from constitutional amendments and city charters to statutes and bond issues.

Depending on state laws, measures can be placed on the ballot in a number of ways. The ballot initiative process gives voters direct access to state issues by allowing them to initiate, or propose, ballot measures to be put to a vote on the ballot by collecting signatures through a petition drive. The legislative referral process allows a state legislature to put a piece of legislation on a ballot for voter approval or rejection. In some states ballot measures can be placed on ballots by commission referral, constitutional convention or automatic ballot referral.

The most available process used in the states to place a ballot measure before citizens is the legislative referral process. Every state but Delaware allows citizens to vote on legislatively-referred constitutional amendments, and 23 states allow citizens to vote on legislatively-referred state statutes. The least available method to place a measure on a ballot is by referral of a commission created by the state legislature or constitution. Only Arizona and Florida have such commissions. The ballot initiative process is used by 26 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and 18 of those states allow voters to initiate constitutional amendments. Constitutional conventions can also be used to put ballot measures before the people.


See also: Ballot access for major and minor party candidates

Candidates are defined as individuals seeking public office. Most states separate candidates into different categories, including political party candidate, independent or nonpartisan candidate and write-in candidate. Political party candidates must identify with one state-recognized political party. In order to get on a ballot, they may have to follow additional rules set by that political party, but they will then have the support of a recognized group, which often means greater publicity and greater access to funding. Independent or nonpartisan candidates do not identify with a political party. Instead, they run on their own accord, gaining ballot access and funding without the support of a recognized group. Write-in candidates can be independent or political party candidates, depending on the laws of the state in which they reside. Write-in candidates often file later than other candidates and are placed on the ballot only if voters physically write their name on their ballot on election day.[2]

Candidates can be placed on the ballot in a number of ways depending on the type of candidate and the state in which the candidate resides. Political party candidates can often gain ballot access by nomination through a convention or primary election. Independent candidates most often have to use the petition method, collecting a specified number of signatures in order to be placed on the ballot. Some states also require political party candidates to use this method. Write-in candidates usually have to file with the state or county, announcing their intention to be a write-in candidate. Since their name does not appear on the ballot, they usually don't have to do much more than that.[2]

Political parties

See also: List of political parties in the United States

As of July 2014, there are 34 distinct and officially recognized political parties in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Counting the total number of instances of a recognized party, there are 220 total parties in the 50 states (and Washington D.C.). For example, the Democratic and Republican parties are recognized in all 50 states plus D.C., which accounts for 102 of the 220 total parties. This figure is based upon the number of officially recognized political parties and does not include situations where a candidate chooses a party designation or party label to appear next to their name on the ballot. For example, candidates have appeared in Washington under the designation "Happiness Party." That does not signify an actual political party -- rather, it is the label chosen by a candidate to appear next to his or her name on the ballot.[3]

Three minor parties are recognized in more than 10 states:[4]

Additionally, 20 political parties are only officially recognized in one state. Florida officially recognizes 15 political parties, more than any other state.[4]

Total state affiliates for each political party
Political party States
Alaskan Independence Party 1
America's Party 1
American First Party 1
American Party of South Carolina 1
Americans Elect 6
Connecticut Independent Party 1
Conservative Party 1
Constitution Party 14
Delaware Independent Party 1
Democratic Party 51
Ecology Party 1
Green Party 20
Hawaii Independent Party 1
Independence Party 3
Independence Party of Minnesota 1
Independent American Party 4
Justice Party 2
Labor Party 1
Libertarian Party 35
Liberty Union Party 1
Moderate Party 1
Mountain Party 1
Natural Law Party 2
Oregon Independent Party 1
Oregon Progressive Party 1
Peace and Freedom Party 2
Reform Party 3
Republican Party 51
Socialism and Liberation Party 1
Socialist Party 2
Tea Party 1
United Citizens Party 1
Vermont Progressive Party 1
Working Families Party 5

The number of recognized political parties fluctuates regularly, as parties are certified and/or lose official party status. For example, Arkansas requires minor parties to win at least 3 percent of the vote in the most recent gubernatorial or presidential election in order to maintain their recognized status. Those parties have not achieved those requirements in the past several elections, thereby needing to reapply for official certification in the year after the even year election.[4]

Many states distinguish between "major" parties and "minor" parties. The differences between the two can be found in how they put a candidate on the ballot. In all states major parties are granted access to primary elections, allowing them to determine which of their candidates will continue to the general election. Many states, however, do not allow minor parties to participate in primary elections, meaning their candidates can only run in the general election. Many states also allow major parties to select candidates by convention, requiring only a certificate of nomination to register the candidate. In contrast, minor parties are often required to submit petitions to register their candidates, proving to the state that they have a certain percentage of support from the total registered voters before their candidate is placed on the ballot.[4]

The process to be recognized as a political party varies by state. Some states require petitions to be submitted with a certain percentage of registered voter signatures. Others require a certain number of voters to register with the party on their voter registration card before a group is considered a political party. Other states require a candidate to run as a member of a political group before it is recognized as a full party, requiring that candidate to earn a certain percentage of the votes cast in that election for the identified group to be considered a party.[4] For information on a specific state's process, check out that state's ballot access requirements page.

The table below details the officially recognized political parties in each state and links to the party websites.[4]

Court cases

Candidate cases

Below are a selection of court cases relating to candidate ballot access.

Williams v. Rhodes

See also: Williams v. Rhodes

Decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968, Williams v. Rhodes held that state laws regulating the selection of presidential electors must meet the requirements of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.[5]

Bullock v. Carter

See also: Bullock v. Carter

Decided by the by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972, Bullock v. Carter held that the Texas primary filing fee system, which required the payment of fees as high as $8,900, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Court found that, under this system, "many potential office seekers lacking both personal wealth and affluent backers are, in every practical sense, precluded from seeking the nomination of their chosen party, no matter how qualified they might be and no matter how broad or enthusiastic their popular support."[6][7]

Lubin v. Panish

See also: Lubin v. Panish

Lubin v. Panish, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974, held that, absent alternative means of ballot access, states cannot require indigent candidates to pay filing fees they cannot afford. To do so violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the rights of expression and association guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.[8]

Illinois v. Socialist Workers Party

See also: Illinois State Board of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party

Decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1979, the ruling in Illinois State Board of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party rendered unconstitutional an Illinois statutory requirement that new political parties and independent candidates for elections in political subdivisions (specifically, Chicago) gather more than the number of signatures required for elections for statewide office.[9]

Anderson v. Celebrezze

See also: Anderson v. Celebrezze

Anderson v. Celebrezze, a case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983, held that Ohio's early filing deadline for independent presidential candidates violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, placing an unconstitutional burden on the voting and associational rights of supporters of independent presidential candidates.[10][11]

Norman v. Reed

See also: Norman v. Reed

Decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992, Norman v. Reed held that it was unconstitutional for the state of Illinois to require a new political party and its candidates to gather more than 25,000 signatures (the threshold for statewide office) to participate in elections for offices in political subdivisions. The ruling was, in part, a reaffirmation of the Court's earlier decision in Illinois State Board of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party.[12]

U.S Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton

See also: U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton

U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton was a 1995 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided against U.S. Term Limits, ruling that states cannot impose qualifications for prospective members of Congress stricter than those specified in the Constitution. The decision invalidated Congressional term limits provisions of 23 states.[13]

See also

External links