2016 marked the first time in sixty-eight years and only the second time ever that a U.S. presidential election had four candidates receive over a million votes. With the expectation for 2020 of another close race between incumbent Republican Donald Trump and whomever the Democrats choose, both likely to have high unfavorability ratings, many voters may again be willing to give consideration to alternative candidates.
Each state has it’s own ballot access laws written by the two establishment parties and, unsurprisingly, these rules benefit those establishment parties to a varying degrees depending upon the state. A new party or an Independent would need to navigate this maze of regulations to meet all the deadlines to submit fees, completed forms, and hundreds of thousands of signatures. Only nine alternative presidential campaigns have achieved ballot access in all fifty states and the District of Columbia during the last forty years, and since 2000 only one has done so.
Failure to gain ballot access in a state is obviously harmful to a candidate’s ability to get votes, in addition to the obstacles of lack of media attention, fundraising handicaps, and the bipartisan monopoly of the presidential debates. Write-in votes require campaign filing in some states in order to be counted, many states won’t count them at all, and five states don’t even allow write-ins. While nationwide ballot access is no guarantor of a major impact, it is certainly an indicator of viability. Below are projections of expected ballot access for the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution Parties, the three most prolific alternative parties in the country.
PROJECTED BALLOT ACCESS FOR 2020
The Constitution Party has seen it’s ballot access decline steadily from a high of 41 states in 2000 to just 24 states in 2016. At this time we project that despite an increase in total votes and in vote percentage(from 0.09% to 0.15%) the CP will not be able to gain ballot access in more states. However, Don Blankenship is the only candidate seeking the party’s nomination. Blankenship was a coal company executive who was sentenced to a year in prison on a misdemeanor charge of violating mine safety standards. He has a net worth of $40 million and if he were to fund petitioning efforts many more states could see his name on their presidential ballot. *
With status in 45 states, more voters could choose the Green Party in 2016 than ever before. However, after their best year in 2000 with Ralph Nader getting nearly 3 million votes they had a drop off to ballot access in just 28 states in 2004. It looks like 2020 will not be as bad but the Greens are likely to compete in around 40 states, perhaps less. Without a Dr. Jill Stein, let alone someone as notable as Ralph Nader, seeking their presidential nomination the party has an uphill climb to have the same impact as in the last election. *
Since it’s founding in 1971 the Libertarian Party has achieved ballot access in the presidential election in all fifty states and D.C. a total of five times. With status in 36 states already, the LP is projected to place it’s presidential candidate on all ballots again in 2020. Primary hurdles will be Illinois, where 25 thousand signatures are needed, and Maryland which requires 10 thousand signatures but Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to get on the Democrat primary ballot by petition are increasing the cost of signature-gathering dramatically.
* Our maps initially indicated in error that the Constitution Party was currently recognized in South Dakota. This has been corrected.
* The Green Party achieved ballot access in Montana on March 6th, although there are rumors that a Republican group funded the petition. The Montana GP indicates it will not run candidates for US House or Senate.