A few things have happened since I wrote about alternative party ballot access for the 2020 presidential election on March 1st. Joe Biden drove the other challengers from the field to become the presumptive nominee for the Democrats. Justin Amash jumped in and then out of the race for the Libertarian nomination while Jesse Ventura stopped teasing about running with the Greens. The LP held the presidential nomination portion of it’s convention online and chose Jo Jorgensen. The Constitution Party did the same with a much smaller number of participants to pick Don Blankenship, although their NM affiliate went rogue and will have Tittle-Fakes as it’s presidential ticket. For the Greens the presumptive nominee is Howie Hawkins. Oh, and there’s this virus thing that has caused some disruptions. The key effect of COVID-19 on ballot access has been that a number of states have eased petitioning requirements, most notably Illinois where the Libertarian and Green Parties have been given status, but many other states, such as Maryland and Wisconsin, appear to have little interest in alleviating the need for parties to ask voters to sign petitions. Nevertheless, the overall outcome won’t be radically different than what has been projected.
To provide some background, each state has it’s own ballot access laws written by the two establishment parties and, unsurprisingly, these rules benefit those establishment parties to 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 party 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. Alternative party candidates also face the obstacles of a 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 doesn’t guarantee a major impact, it is 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. It looks like they may actually improve on that for 2020, but mainly due to reduced petition requirements because of COVID-19 and the likelihood that Don Blankenship will put up the funds to at least get on the ballot in his home state of West Virginia. A coal company executive who was sentenced to a year in prison on a misdemeanor charge of violating mine safety standards, Blankenship has a net worth of $40 million and potentially could fund petitioning efforts in many more states.
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. They’ll hang on to a ballot spot in more states in 2020 with around 42, with keeping status in Illinois thanks to a favorably decided lawsuit being among the most important. But likely nominee Howie Hawkins has neither name recognition nor monetary resources which will make it difficult to match previous results by candidates like Nader and Jill Stein.
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. Illinois was expected to be the largest hurdle but a favorable legal ruling placed the LP and the Greens on without the necessity of a petition drive which would have been close to impossible in the time of COVID-19. Other states, such as Maryland and Maine, could see similar resolution that would save effort for the party. With Jo Jorgensen as the nominee, the Libertarians will have the youngest candidate and the only female of the five largest parties.