In recent news, Ohio state officials told Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley that he could not be on the Democratic primary ballot. The petition to be on the ballot required 1,000 valid signatures from a single county. O’Malley submitted 1,175, but only 772 were considered valid. Both of his fellow Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are on the ballot.
Presidential primaries are often reserved only for partisan candidates, but that does not necessarily make it easy for some of these candidates to make it on the ballot. Ballot access requirements differ by state, with varying difficulties of entry.
Common Ballot Access Requirements
Ballot access requirements may be composed of a petition with a required amount (and kind) of signatures, and a filing fee. Some requirements have one, both, or treat them alternatively. Candidates are certified for the primary ballot either by state election boards or the secretary of state.
10 States With The Strictest Ballot Access Requirements
Virginia has practically the strictest ballot access requirements. It requires at least 5,000 signatures for each candidate’s petition, with at least 200 from each of the state's 11 congressional districts. There is no alternative filing fee, and no board that chooses a primary candidate independently of any petition. It is more difficult because even though the minimum per congressional district is 200, the overall minimum far exceeds a 200 per district requirement.
Indiana requires a petition with at least 4,500 valid signatures, with at least 500 from each of the state's 9 congressional districts. Since the overall minimum is simply the compounded minimum of each district’s signature requirement, the process is relatively simpler than that of Virginia. However, like Virginia, there is not an alternative way to get on the ballot, nor an independent board to independently place the candidate’s name on the ballot.
Vermont requires at least 1,000 signatures on the petition, but the required filing fee is hefty: $2,000. There is no alternative to the petition and filing fee, and no independent board that can choose primary candidates even without a petition. However, it is relatively easier to gain ballot access because there is no congressional district voting requirements.
Presidential candidates are required to submit a petition with at least 5,000 signatures, with a minimum of 1,000 for each of Oregon’s 5 congressional districts. The signatures have to come from voters of the same party as the candidate. Alternatively, the secretary of state could put the candidate’s name on the ballot. There is no filing fee. Because of the same party and congressional district requirements, Oregon has some of the strictest ballot access rules.
To gain access to the primary ballot, the candidate needs a petition with at least 1,000 valid signatures for each of Wisconsin’s 8 congressional districts. This adds up to a required minimum of 8,000 signatures. However, alternatively, his or her name can be placed on the ballot by the Presidential Preference Selection Committee.
To be on the primary ballot, the candidate must submit a petition with at least 5,000 signatures, and pay a $1,000 filing fee. Alternatively, the Kentucky State Board of Elections can place names on the primary ballot. However, any candidate placed on the ballot by the Board is still required to pay the $1,000 filing fee.
Candidates are required to submit either a $2,500 filing fee or 10,000 signatures in a petition. The filing fee is hefty, as is the signature requirement.
Presidential candidates applying for primary ballot access in Oklahoma need to submit at least 5,000 valid signatures on a petition, with a minimum of 1,000 signatures from each of Oklahoma’s 5 congressional districts. Alternatively, if they consider the signature requirement too high, candidates can pay the equally hefty $2,500 filing fee requirement.
Missouri requires either $1,000 in filing fee, or 5,000 signatures on a petition. The requirement is low compared to other states. However, there is no alternative board who might independently place the candidate’s name on the ballot. This makes Missouri one of the more difficult states to gain primary ballot access.
To be included on the primary ballot, presidential candidates need to submit a petition of at least 2,000 signatures. There is also a required filing fee of $200. There is no alternative board who can independently place a candidate’s name on the ballot. However, both the signature requirement and filing fee are relatively low.
10 States With The Easiest Ballot Access Requirements
South Dakota, by any standard, is the easiest state in which to gain access to a primary ballot. The candidate simply needs to submit his notice of intent to run in the state. His political party must then send verification of that candidate’s inclusion in the party to the secretary of state. There is no filing fee or signed petition required.
Florida is one of the most important swing states (considered by many the most important because it has 27 electoral votes). However, it also has one of the simplest ballot access requirements. The political party simply submits a list of the candidates it would like on the ballot. There is no filing fee or petition signature requirement.
Idaho and New Hampshire
Idaho and New Hampshire have exactly the same ballot access requirement: a filing fee of $1,000. There is no signature requirement. This is more interesting for New Hampshire, which is also a crucial swing state. New Hampshire has a good record of picking out the winner in each presidential election, but it is also extremely easy to get onto the primary ballot.
For a presidential candidate to have his or her name on Maryland’s primary ballot, they need to submit 400 signatures in a petition. Alternatively, the secretary of state can place the names on the ballot. There is no filing fee.
Mississippi has practically the same requirements as Maryland, but requiring 100 signatures more. The candidate can either submit a petition with 500 valid signatures, or the secretary of state could place the candidate’s name on the ballot. There is no filing fee for candidacy in Mississippi.
The ballot access requirement for the Nebraska primary is at least 300 signatures, at least 100 signatures from each of the state's 3 congressional districts. Alternatively, the candidate’s name is placed on the ballot by the secretary of state.
A presidential candidate in Montana must submit 500 signatures in a petition to the state. There is no alternative way for him to be placed on the ballot. However, there is no filing fee either, making it easy for the candidate.
In Delaware, a presidential candidate must submit a petition with 500 signatures from voters in the same party as the candidate. There is no filing fee requirement, but no alternative way for the candidate to have his name on the ballot.
In Rhode Island, a presidential candidate may enter the primary ballot by submitting a 1,000-signature petition. The secretary of state is not authorized to place the candidate’s name on the ballot, and there is no filing fee required.
How Do Ballot Access Requirements for President Compare State to State?
There does not seem to be any driving rule for ballot access requirements per state. The whole idea of ballot access requirements comes from the suggestion or protest that lax requirements may result in over-enlistment of candidates on the ballot. Having more candidates on one party’s list may easily split that party’s vote, not gaining a clear majority for a specific candidate. Regardless, it is up to states to decide their own requirements.
How Do Ballot Access Requirements Compare in the Swing States?
Virginia is the most difficult state to gain primary ballot access, even for partisan candidates. On the other hand, two of the most important swing states -- Florida and New Hampshire -- are among the easiest states for partisan presidential candidates to enter the primaries.
Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada all choose by caucus, meaning the political parties decide which delegates to send to the general elections, without a vote. Ohio is the only other swing state with a primary, and the requirements differ by party.
Democrats must submit 1,000 voter signatures from a single county, while Republicans must submit at least 60 elector signatures from a single county. Minor parties simply need to submit at least 18 electors who will represent their party in the Electoral College.
For Better or Worse: Ballot Access Requirements are State-Dependent
Meeting ballot access requirements becomes almost an obstacle course for the presidential candidates. However, it is a worthy requirement that allows the candidates to assess how well they are doing in each state. The stricter the requirements, especially for petition signatures, the better the candidates can accurately gauge their campaign needs in individual states.