Why do third parties have to collect signatures.

To get on the ballot, third party candidates have to collect signatures, but Democrats and Republicans do not. Why? I have heard that this is because many states’ constitutions have wording establishing a two party system, but have never seen confirmation of this in writing. I certainly can’t find it in Kentucky’s constitution.

This varies by state, but my understanding of the way New York works is that any political party that get at least a minimum number of votes in the gubernatorial election (50,000, I believe) has the right to nominate a candidate for all general elections in the state (other than local non-partisan elections) for the next four years. There are usually six or seven parties on the ballot for major elections, including Conservative, Liberal, Right to Life, Working Families and some others. Often the smaller parties will cross-nominate the candidate of a larger party.

If an independent candidate or a candidate from a party that did not make the cut wants to get nominated, the candidate must collect signatures on a nominating petition. Insurgent candidates for party primaries also must sometimes use a nominating petiton.

This is pretty much what Billdo said but I just finished looking this up so I’m going to post it. In Connecticut, there are just different rules for major and minor parties. No direct reference to Republicans or Democrats, just legal definitions:

This is usually a matter of state law, not of state constitutions. The state constitution generally doesn’t get into nitty-gritty ballot access issues. (There may be some exceptions in states where voters have written easier ballot-access rules into the constitution by initiative.)

Keep in mind that, if you want to get onto the ballot under the banner of a “major party”, you either have to win a primary or, in some cases, be nominated by a state convention. If you want to run for office under a “minor party”, you have to collect signatures–but once you do so, you are expressed directly onto the general election ballot without having to win a primary.

Believe it or not, elections are not held for the enjoyment of the media or comedians.

There are barriers to ballot entry because we don’t want them to be circus events, along the lines of the California governor recall. Hundreds of applicants, 99.9% not serious and zero chance of being elected.

I think that every state has rules for ballot access, which will naturally vary from state to state, but with these standards:

  1. If you want to get on the ballot, you circulate petitions for your candidacy. If enough people sign your petition, you get your name on the ballot as a candidate for that office.

  2. In most states, established political parties automatically have ballot access for the candidates of their party – and the mode of becoming “an established political party” is to have gotten a minimum number of votes for your candidate for a specific major office, usually either President or Governor, in the last election for that office.

As noted above, New York has five major parties who have automatic ballot access: Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, and Right to Life (to which may be added whatever the Perotistas are calling themselves in New York these days; they were not qualified when last I reviewed this stuff years ago, but almost definitely are now). North Carolina has Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian ballot lines; others have to get on by petition.

Speaking as an independent candidate for office (linkeroo) who had to sue Pennsylvania after we met their ridiculous ballot requirement this year (and even then they wouldn’t allow me on the ballot after I obtained a court order; we had to make FOUR trips to Harrisburg in total, retain a lawyer, go ballistic… :mad: :mad: :mad: ):

It’s to keep people from running and maintain political power for the two major parties. Most states’ ballot access laws are completely unreasonable, and the requirements tend to be raised by state legislatures after a candidate outside of the two party system does well, to ensure it won’t happen again. In PA’s case George Wallace did suprisngly well here in '68, so the legislature here quadrupled the ballot access signature requirement. It was enough to knock Nader off this year. Ain’t democracy grand? :rolleyes:

If you want to run for MP in the UK or Canada, you need 10 signatures. In New Jersey, which has some pretty fair ballot access laws (rare), you need around 130 or so for access to the ballot for US Congress. That’s a fair enough requirement to keep the circus away. But PA is more typical; I needed 2,412 signatures of registered voters in my congressional district (only 1/19 of PA citizens) for ballot access (2% of the highest vote total for any non-judge candidate in our gerrymandred district in the previous election, which like most in America is decided by a supermajority of 85% of the vote in the previous election.) I needed basically 1/10th of the signatures that a presidential candidate needs to get on the ballot for the whole state… all of them having to live in an area in which about 1/20th of the population lives.

And here are the kickers:

No one knows which congressional district they live in, because of the crazy gerrymandering and because people move (you can move across the street and change districts) and because there are parts of 4 local districts in this city (Philadelphia) alone. The major parties (whose minions work in the Bureau of Elections office :eek: ) have a week after you file to challange your signatures.

This means you don’t need 2,412 signatures, because even the most honest attempt to gather in-district signatures contains errors. People don’t even know if they are actively registered to vote let alone where, and you can’t trust even well-meaning people who want to vote for you. So it’s suggested you gather twice the number needed for ballot access… but again out of only 1/19th of Pennsylvania! In other words, 1/5th the total for president for the whole state, but from 1/19th of the state!

Here’s a map of my district. Those aren’t county lines; they’re streets. The opposite side of each street is another district.

It took us 6 months (each state has a restricted window of time, in PA this year it was Feb 18-Aug 1); it seriously drained our ability to campaign in any other fashion. Did I mention you need every page of signatures notiarized? This basically chops a day off of your gathering time, and the trip to the state capitol if you don’t live there is at least one more. Even then when I showed up for filing, the state rejected 12 of our 32 petitions because I had to photocopy them as they wouldn’t give me the number I requested months earlier because they are “rationing them!”

Eventually, after a lawsuit against the state in Commonwealth Court, we prevailed. A month a $1000 of lawyer fees (and 7 copies of our lawsuit, including ALL of the signatures) later, which also kept us from campaigning. All of the major law firms in the city who do election law are connected to one of the major parties, so none of them would take our case. We had to retain a lawyer in another city, a couple of congressional districts away.

Even after that, the Bureau of Elections withheld ballot access on a minor technicality after my 3rd trip to Harrisburg (with a court order in my hand for them to accept the petitions!), and it took another round of notarized affadavits and the threat of a second lawsuit to eventually provisionally get ballot access.

Because, my friends, the one week challenge period began the day my petitions were eventually accepted. We didn’t have the suggested 5,000 signatures from trhe district (this is an insane amount), we had a “mere” 2,924 we thought looked vaild, with a little junk we knew could be tossed (some idiot signed “Jesus” residing on “A cloud, heaven” etc etc) putting us above 3,000. This meant we needed about 90% accuracy(“validity”), and I believe we had it, which is a testament to my volunteers. Normally a campaign can expect about 25% invalid, try as you might.

Fortunately it appears the major parties saw we did an impeccable job gathering signatures, and saw we were willing to sue to get on the ballot, so we weren’t challenged. Most aren’t so lucky.

We had a press conference to announce the victory; invited 28 local media outlets through press releases, calls and email. Not a single one sent a reporter. :mad:

And that, my friends, is how the serious part of our campaign was finally allowed to begin in earnest… in the beginning of September!

So, to answer the OP…

… to keep you off the ballot as an honest citizen
… to discourage independent political action
… to bog you down so that if you do get on the ballot, you spend most of your year not doing normal campaign work

Having done a lot of research on the topic, until about 1900 most parties and candidates printed their own ballots to be marked and deposited in the ballot box. States stepped in with these rules in an entrenched fashion and use them to keep them off the ballot; this is a “new” and increasingly undemocratic political “tradition.”

That’s the USA in 2004. :smack: :smack: :smack: :mad: :frowning: