Green Party Ballot Access at Highest Levels in 2016

Created: 02 September, 2016
Updated: 17 October, 2022
5 min read

Green Party ballot access campaigns have had more success in 2016 than ever before, according to Rick Lass, Ballot Access Coordinator for the Jill Stein campaign.

You can check out the Greens' infographic to see states turn green as each state's required signatures are submitted. So far, 43 states are green. Lass is sure that Greens will make it onto 44 state ballots, plus Washington, D.C.

The only state so far, with no chance of turning green is South Dakota. Greens failed to gain ballot access there, and the state does not allow write-in campaigns. Greens failed to gain ballot access, but will be running write-in campaigns in Indiana, North Carolina, and Georgia.

States with Court Cases

The Green Party is in litigation with Nevada and Oklahoma.

In Nevada, Greens submitted the required number of signatures for the 2016 election, but not by the state’s deadline. They sued the state claiming that a June deadline for signature petitions is prohibitively early. According to Ballot Access News, on September 1, 2016, a district court upheld the state’s June deadline. However, the Greens might appeal the decision.

In order to get on the ballot, the Green Party needs a favorable decision from an appeal before ballots are printed – about 45 days before the election, according to Tom Yager, the Green Party’s national ballot access coordinator. Nevada does not allow write-in campaigns.

In Oklahoma, a candidate needs 40,000 signatures to get on the ballot. Greens challenge that this number is too high, and are awaiting a court’s decision. Yager thinks Greens still have a chance, based on their success in Georgia. Georgia also required 40,000 signatures, but the Greens won their court case, and got the number knocked down to 7,500.

The court battle in Georgia was a big victory, and though the Greens filed the required signatures on time, many of the signatures were invalidated by the state. They had to fall back on a write-in campaign.

Gaining Party Status

Getting on the ballot can be difficult, and expensive. Third party and independent candidates have to gain knowledge of different ballot access laws in each state. Starting and ending deadlines, number of signatures, stipulations about running mates, and required formats, are different in each state. As well, there are different laws for access depending on whether the petitioning actor is a party, or independent candidate.

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The Green Party had to decide whether to run Dr. Jill Stein, the party's nominee, as an independent, or party candidate, depending on its ability to meet a state's requirements. Stein is running off the Green Party ticket, as an independent candidate in 6 states: Alabama, Tennessee, Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, and Wyoming.

There are two central problems with running Stein as an independent. First, voters will not be able to identify her by party. Voters will have to pick her out from a list of other independent candidates. Second, there is no chance of using her gains toward party status in the next election. In some states, under certain criteria, if a party gains enough support in an election, it automatically wins ballot access in subsequent elections. The Green Party will have to re-petition in states where Stein is running as an independent candidate.

Greens will have to petition again in the next election in any state where they don’t garner enough general election votes. According to Yager: in Oregon, if the Green Party gets 1% of the vote, they win party status until 2020. In Massachusetts, earning 3% of the vote sustains party status for two years. In Missouri, 2% of the vote will qualify a party for 4 years. Alabama’s retention requirement is 20%. Formulas differ by state.

In total, the Green Party has gathered 248,000 signatures in 27 states.

To gain enough signatures for ballot access, emerging parties not only have to navigate an onerous election system, but pay a high dollar amount. States with high signature requirements, like North Carolina, which requires almost 90,000 signatures, are expensive. The average costs per signature, based on Ballotopedia data from 2015, is $6.49.

Building Support

Reaching benchmarks is important, not just for structural gains in the election system, but to gain credibility with voters, says Yager.

The Stein campaign qualified for matching funds in March 2016, by collecting small donations of $250 or less, totaling at least $5,000, in at least 20 states.

If the party can garner 5% of votes in the 2016 general election, they will qualify for more federal funds in the next election cycle. As well, Green coordinators say that if the Greens get 5% of the vote nationally, it is likely that their states will earn a similar percentage, which will trigger party status for the next election cycle.

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If the Green Party gets 15% in national polls during campaign season, they will be included in the general election presidential debates. Besides gaining exposure, Yager says, the debate benchmark is important to gain credibility with voters. He believes that once the Green Party gains 15% of actual votes in the general election, they will be only a few cycles away from being competitive with other national parties.

What is Next?

With the Green Party ballot access work coming to a close, Greens are gearing up for a 'get out the vote campaign.' Getting into the debates is a key tactic to get the Greens' message out to voters. It is not likely that Stein will qualify for debate access, based on polling data, but Greens are fighting for a spot on the national debate stage without earning 15% in the national polls. Stein started a petition to the Commission on Presidential Debates. She is requesting to be included based on her ability to win 270 electoral votes. The petition is near its goal of 100,000 signatures. Greens are mobilizing citizens, lobbying Congress, and using a letter to the editor campaign to pressure the debate commission to accept the petition.

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