Episode Two: Your Name Here (How 3rd Parties Get Ballot Access)

Episode Two: Your Name Here (How 3rd Parties Get Ballot Access)

– [Narrator] For the two major parties, ballot access is pretty much a given. For others, not so much. – This week, you did
make it onto the ballot in all 50 states, in Washington, D.C., which I should mention
no third party candidate has done since 1996. – [Narrator] For the
first time in 30 years, a third candidate has made all 51 ballots. Ballot access is absolutely critical. It’s your name on paper
so people can see it and vote for it. – For the most part, you
will not even be noticed unless you’re on the ballot. – [Narrator] It’s also
how a candidate meets the second criteria for
getting debate access. So how does one get on the
ballot in the United States? It’s complicated, but it boils down to
signatures, lots of them. It takes help and
persistence from supporters, money to pay for organizers, petitioners, and resources to grind out
cases in our legal system. Ballot access in the United States is a mess of a process. At all levels. – The United States is famous for having non-uniform electoral procedures. – Because of these restrictive
ballot access laws, many races for the Georgia legislature only have one candidate. – [Narrator] It’d be funny
if it weren’t so indicative of the partisanship and inefficiencies many Americans are fed up
with in the first place. – They want to dissuade
someone like myself from doing this. – I am competing with Hilary Clinton to be the nominee of the Women’s
Equality Party of New York. – Her name will be on twice on the ballot. – Yes, she is allowed to be on twice. – [Narrator] This is
episode two, Your Name Here. – You do have to get past the frustration of how absurd the rules are and just go ‘I get it,
it’s crazy, it’s absurd,’ but you just keep going for it. – [Narrator] We met up with
the bravest of brave souls, independent candidate Dr. Lynn Kahn. – In May 2014, I was having
a very sleepless night. I was tossing and turning. I just couldn’t sleep. Woke up in the morning and sat up and literally said out loud “I want to be President
of the United States” and then I thought who said that. (laughs) – [Narrator] Lynn has spent 30 years as an organizational psychologist
inside federal agencies. If anyone knows how federal
agencies operate day to day and can speak to the
ways the executive branch can improve them, it’s her. However, ballot access procedure has been a bit of a rude awakening. – Once you submit your paperwork to the Federal Election
Commission to be a candidate, that’s kind of where
the federal piece ends and it’s really the state regulations that determine how you get on the ballot and who gets on the ballot. Every single state has a different process for getting on the ballot. For example, it takes
125,000 or so signatures in Florida to get on the ballot. It takes 5,000 in Ohio. So it just doesn’t make any sense. New Mexico, it would be easier for me to start my own political party in terms of the number
of signatures required than collect signatures
to get on the ballot as an individual, and
that’s just the beginning. So, then you start looking
at exactly what is it that you have to do, what are the rules. Tell me what the rules
are, and we read them and we laugh, we cry because they’re just
insanely complicated to read and then one of us calls
the Board of Elections in that particular state and goes “This is what I think the rules say” just to get a confirmation because hello, sometimes what’s on
the website isn’t correct and sometimes there’s
just a lot of information missing on the website. Democrats or Republicans,
they don’t even think about. They absolutely don’t even think about what it takes to actually
get on the ballot. – [Narrator] The fact
that the two major parties have an easier time isn’t surprising, but sometimes it defies common sense. Take this county board race
near St. Louis for example. A Republican candidate was required to turn in 19 signatures, his independent opponent, 232. When the independent turned in 273, the Republican, through a
series of court challenges, got the county to toss out 45
of his opponent’s signatures, leaving him two shy of the requirement. Even with 10 times as many signatures as the Republican candidate, the independent was
dropped from the ballot. That’s not how this is supposed to work. We’re supposed to encourage participation from motivated, engaged citizens. – It can be discouraging. – [Narrator] This is Tom Yager, Co-Chair of the Green Party
Ballot Access Committee. – In most states, what happens
is the secretary of state checks the signatures on the
petitions that you’ve turned in to make sure that they
are registered voters. Generally, it’s encouraged
for you to turn in like, roughly 50% more signatures than the requirement actually is. For example, in Kentucky
you need to turn in 5,000 signatures to get on
the ballot for president. You should turn in about 7,500 to be safe. – [Narrator] Signatures get
thrown out for clerical errors and various screenouts shrink the pool of eligible citizens. – Texas has a strange process
called a primary screenout. People who sign your petition to get your state party on the ballot cannot have voted in the
Democratic or Republican primaries and it makes it harder because some people who want to sign your
petition, legally can’t. – [Narrator] Timelines can make it harder for grass roots efforts
to build up momentum. – Sometimes you have to
get a lot of signatures in a short time period,
like Illinois for example. We have to get 25,000
signatures in 90 days. – [Narrator] In their models, Tom estimates you can count
on 10% of your total petitions to be handled by pure volunteers. The rest, you gotta pay for in some way. You have to cover travel costs or hire professional petitioners. – Figuring petitions of
under 5,000 signatures can be done with pretty
much all volunteers. This is looking at like the larger states. I’d say about that would be
close to two million dollars starting from scratch. – [Narrator] It’s just math and reality. There’s also the cost
of defending the work that’s already been done. – The Democratic Party
challenges Green Party petitions in some states and the Republican Party challenges Libertarian
Constitution Parties. – [Narrator] Sometimes these
challenges are taken to court and can set damaging precedence. – The Pennsylvania Supreme
Courts basically ruled that the loser in a challenge could have the winner’s legal
costs assessed against them. They used that against Ralph Nader in 2004 and basically he was told to pay like over $80,000 in court costs to the Democrats who kicked
him off the ballot. – [Narrator] Until that
ruling was overturned in 2012, no Greens or Libertarians
attempted a mid-term run in Pennsylvania for almost a decade. Also, some offices are just out of reach. – No one has succeeded as an independent or third-party candidates
in getting on the ballot in Georgia for Congress. It’s just been the two major
parties since the 1940s. – [Narrator] All of this
still begs the question, if there’s true support, why
can’t they rally the base? – Even better established parties can struggle in certain
states for various reasons. – [Man] How you doing ma’am? Are you a New Hampshire
voter by any chance? – Have a good day. – [Narrator] New
Hampshire has a relatively low signature requirement and the Libertarians were
in danger to miss the deadline. 3,000 signatures gets five candidates including Gary Johnson on the ballot. Libertarian national
headquarters sent Nick Dunbar to oversee the final push
to make sure it happened. He put us in touch with
their top petitioner, Jeff, on the last day, they
were gathering signatures. – [Jeff] How you doing sir? Are you a New Hampshire
voter by any chance? – [Man] I am, yes. – So I’m just trying to get
some candidates on the ballot and we need several thousand signatures. You don’t have to vote for
them or anything like that. We’re strictly just trying
to get ballot access and so it’s just a signature, print, and then for voter’s domicile
it’s just the address associated with your voter registration. There, right there. And the date’s 8/7/16. You can always vote for whoever you want, but we’re just trying
to get on the ballot. Surprisingly, that’s
kind of the funny thing is very few people are familiar with how the system operates
in the first place. – [Narrator] Generally, people
seem responsive to Jeff. So why did national have to get involved? At the turn-in party, we
realized individual elections don’t live in isolation. Until a libertarian candidate gets 4% of the vote to be a
governor, senator, or president, the state won’t even recognize the party, which means they must
petition for ballot access every election including midterms. – Lots of people will go, they’ll tell us like this is crazy that you guys have to go
through this every year. – [Interviewer] Yeah, we saw that. – Again, yeah and always
happy to sign this, good luck to you guys. We get tons and tons of that. – [Narrator] New Hampshire
residents can’t even register as libertarians until they are recognized. – I’m an independent, but I’m more Libertarian
than anything, yeah. – [Narrator] That plus
worrying about ballot access is a major deterrent for
recruiting candidates and organizers. – So some of the people
who wanted to be activists, they took a path, of let’s say running as a Republican or in some
cases maybe as a Democrat. That was the better in-road. – [Narrator] That’s a tough cycle. To make the organization stable, you must first perform well in races that require a stable organization. The 2016 race is a chance
to break that cycle. – [Interviewer] To people
who are like thinking about voting Libertarian,
but are kind of worried about having throwaway votes or whatever. That vote still counts,
’cause it gets you to the 4%. – Yes! We need everybody
who thinks they’re wasting their vote, to go right ahead
and waste their vote, because even if Johnson doesn’t win, we can win here in New Hampshire by staving off another cycle
of having to do petition and get recognized as a party,
we’ll have valid status, which will mean that in the
next congressional cycle we don’t have to spend
time and effort doing this. – I have Derry and Concord,
but not Dover. Okay, let me cross that off
my list so I don’t panic. – [Narrator] The crew of 15 petitioners turned in 6,000 signatures,
enabling over one million people to see their five
candidates on the ballot. – I’m definitely proud of it. At the same time though, I still just don’t think
it should be required. It bugs me, it itches
me the wrong way that we have to do that and they don’t. You know what I mean? – [Narrator] 120 miles to
the Northeast in Maine, fresh off a recent legal win granting temporary party
status, the mood was different. ♫ One, two, three, four ♫ (playful music) – [Interviewer] I thought
this was gonna be like a big Libertarian affair, but you got like the whole community. There’s a little bit of everyone here. – [Man] Correct, that’s
the way it should be. – [Interviewer] Yeah, I saw
a woman with a Trump badge. – Correct, and there’s a
Bernie Sanders supporter here. It’s all good. We all like lobster, we all like beer and we all like music. – [Narrator] The
Libertarian Party in Maine has had some peaks and
valleys in the last year. We were there for a peak. – There’s two ways to become
an official party of Maine. One way is the presidential
candidate for the party can achieve 5% of the vote, or we can get initially 5,000 people
registered as libertarians, meaning they take the time, fill out a voter
registration card that says I’m a Libertarian and
submit it to the state. – [Narrator] Chris and
the party chose to go with the grass roots registration effort. – We had submitted 6,492 registrations to the various towns and cities. Almost 2,000 were rejected. So that left us short by the
December 1st deadline 487. We got a lawyer, we went to court. The first ruling was
issued May 27th I believe saying ‘nope!’ you can’t have extra time to get those remaining 487, even though there are precedents
from eight other states allowing the same thing we were asking. We filed for a reconsideration, I forget the legal term, and the judge then, it
was a misunderstanding, saw what we were talking about and we were given the chance. – [Narrator] They got their window and new party member Dean did his part to push them over the final hurdle. – As far as getting
out there and doing it, I have a full-time job, I have
a wife, I have two children. I just try to think realistically I’m not gonna throw these giant events. I’m like what can I do? I can talk to some
people, registration cards. – [Narrator] He quickly found the pitch that resonated with Mainers. – Give us the opportunity
to put someone else there. You can vote for whoever you want and a lot of people were on board with it. I had very few objections. In fact, I think the biggest
objection that I ever had was my very own grandmother. – We overachieved the amount
needed ahead of schedule by about 30%. – [Narrator] They were a party and then something interesting happened. Interest picked up. – There’s a lot of psychology. Just getting that extra 487, people saw that it could
be done, it has been done and then they came on board. I was getting emails every day. “I’m signing up.” “Great job, I’m signing up.” – A lot of people came up to me and said “Oh that’s great, what is it all about?” – So we got 1,000 in
about a two-week period where we’d gotten 630
in a six-week period. When people see success like that, it’s easier for them to come on board and it’s not a criticism
why they didn’t before or have afterwards. It doesn’t matter. That’s the way it is. Human nature is very complex. – [Narrator] The key now is
maintaining that momentum. – It’s not easy to commit
to something like this. You know, the pay stinks,
the benefits don’t exist. (chuckles) There is no pay. You know, you’re making a commitment. You’re kind of setting yourself
up to be finger pointed at by people who don’t approve
of it or agree with it. So it’s not an easy thing,
but people are doing it. – [Narrator] Party status is temporary. If they don’t get 10,000
registered Libertarians to show up on election day, the state wipes their
registration database clean of any Libertarians and they
gotta start all over again. – We are official party status for all intents and purpose, for now. I’m sure there’s a term for it
in Latin, but it’s temporary because we have to meet the next hurdle, which is really? (laughs) – [Narrator] There’s no
need for ballot access laws to be so complicated. There’s just little incentive
for lawmakers to change them. Keeping a potential political
threat treading water is an effective way to stifle enthusiasm. If there’s one redeeming aspect to it, it’s that it enables
small, motivated groups to have a big impact and individuals like Jeff and Dean can play a role in ensuring
millions of Americans can see their candidates
on the ballot in November, side by side with major parties. – It just needs to be done. You know, it’s just like
taking the trash out. – [Narrator] But those feel-good
stories come at an expense. Our conversations with candidates and supporters tell a story of how these laws drain
limited time and resources. – After having figured
out my message is good and it resonates, I’m just like getting on
ballots, getting on ballots. – Two-week rule this, two-week rule that, one memo this, one memo that, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. When you spend that kind of effort, then you don’t have the
resources to campaign because you spent it to be able just to get at the beginning line. (laughs) Just to get at the start line. So now you’re exhausted. You had to run 10K while
they’re waiting there to get to the start line
to begin to run the 10K. – [Narrator] When applied
in races across the country, this is no small inequality. For minor parties, even a modest showing in a presidential election
has a big impact nationwide. Almost half of the
states award party status on the next midterm election if the presidential candidate
gets 3% of the popular vote. That’s a big deal for future state and local level candidates. With so much to gain, why do
we consistently see a drop in third party support
as election day nears? Simply put, people fear the spoiler. Major campaigns can win back votes are ratcheting up pressure
to not vote for a spoiler. While we were in Maine talking with Chris, something else was happening that could have a dramatic
impact on the spoiler effect. (knocking) – I’m here on behalf of FairVote Maine, educating voters on Ranked Choice Voting. Are you familiar with
the Ranked Choice Voting? – Not really. – [Narrator] We decided
to look into it more. (music)


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    Well done. I am so sick of everyone saying 'Don't vote Gary! vote down ticket and make the change in state first'. Well there is no down ticket in most states. and

    Vote your vote, for anyone you want, keep your choice hold fast and keep the faith. This year more than ever the LIB or GRN party needs to hit 5%. We need to open up the ballot access and funding for the other parties.

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    D. Frank Robinson

    Amendment IX of the Constitution states "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

    I argue that Amendment IX protects the right of every voter to control the choices (names) that appear on the ballot of every federal election, leaving aside for the moment the application of that Amendment to the states' ballots. Apportionment and districting and a government monopoly on the production of ballot papers cannot be instituted to abridge the retained right to cast a write-in vote for any federal office in any election.

    Frankly, access to the ballot by every voter is the prerogative of each person otherwise qualified to cast a ballot. This means that write-in voting is an absolute retained right of each of the people in every election for an office under the U S Constitution. The manipulation of access to the ballot to void the retained right of the citizen is unconstitutional under the IX Amendment.

    Once people lost the right to cast and uncensored write-in vote, the loss of all other rights became a foregone conclusion under the guise of a constitutional republic. A republic without a write-in vote is no republic at all. Citizens have been stripped of exercising the only slender thread of plausibility for democratic control of the rulers and are reduced to living in feudal social system with only the liturgical trappings of a republic that is fundamentally defective and corrupt.

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    Jau Yun


    It is supposed to work that way. The US was founded by elitists. They were slave owners, Hello! They believed that subjugation is good. God likes subjugation; that's how they thought then, and it's how they think now.

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