Independents Face Petitioning Hurdles

This AP story provides a pretty good general overview of the major Independent candidates for governor this year and the various petitioning requirements that each face…

As gubernatorial races across the country heat up, a handful of independent candidates have emerged nationally who could influence tight races, be it as spoilers or as long-shot victors.

But in order to do so in November, such candidates—who have popped up in Oregon, Texas, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maine and Alaska—first need to get on the ballot.

And in some states that’s far easier said than done, thanks to often-byzantine requirements about who can, and cannot, sign petitions.

Such rules, tightened in some cases since the combative 2004 presidential election cycle, are viewed by independents as a key way the major parties keep outsiders from winning higher office, even as the number of unaffiliated voters balloons nationwide.

“This was an over-reaching by both the major parties for the single-minded purpose of buttressing the status quo, and their political infrastructure,” said Oregon State Sen. Ben Westlund, a former Republican who is running as an independent.

Others, though, say mounting a serious campaign for statewide office shouldn’t be as simple as paying a fee, or collecting a few hundred signatures from die-hard supporters.

Many states solely require independent candidates to collect a certain number of signatures, roughly corresponding to 1 or 2 percent of voters in previous gubernatorial elections. In Alaska, for example, independent gubernatorial candidate Andrew Halcro, a former state representative from Anchorage, has to collect just 3,200 signatures.

But a few states, including Oregon and Texas, now also require that petition-signers not vote in major-party primaries. Petitions are reviewed sheet-by-sheet, and signers who are found to have voted in a party primary are tossed out.

“The way this works is, if voters participate in a nominating process, they don’t get a second bite at the apple,” said John Lindback, Oregon’s elections director. “It’s not supposed to be easy to get your name on the ballot for a statewide race. Party people have to get through a primary, and that’s not easy either.”

Such rules are in vogue, Lindback said, to prevent die-hard Democrats or Republicans from trying to help get third-party candidates on the ballot to act as general election spoilers—like the Republicans who eagerly signed petitions for Ralph Nader in 2004, or Democrats vouching for Libertarian or Constitution Party candidates.

But for the independent candidates, such rules mean that they’ll need to collect double, or even triple, the number of signatures needed, in order to make sure they’ll have enough valid signatures left after double-signers are weeded out.

In Texas, for example, where two independents—populist musician Kinky Friedman and Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn—are making a run at Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s seat, they’ll officially need 45,540 signatures.

In reality, said Laura Stromberg, a spokeswoman for Friedman’s campaign, the Friedman volunteers expect to gather about 100,000 signatures, to give themselves a thick cushion.

“Texas is a one-party state,” she said. “It is run by an administration who will do whatever they can to quash a third-party and independent candidate.”

Other candidates don’t face the restrictions on signing up party primary voters, but must contend with their own state’s peculiarities. In Massachusetts, where millionaire and ex-GOPer Christy Mihos is running as an independent, candidates need only 10,000 signatures, but petitions need to be submitted to individual townships, where they can be verified by city clerks.

“So you don’t use generic petitions,” said David White, a spokesman for the Mihos campaign. “You can’t stand at Fenway Park to get everyone to sign the same petition. At the end of the day, you have to go to high school baseball games to get the petitions signed.”

Maine, one of the only states in recent history to have elected an independent governor, so far has about half-a-dozen independent hopefuls, who need to gather 4,000 signatures statewide by June 2 to get on the ballot. Candidates there are also soliciting $5 checks from backers, and need to gather enough to qualify for state elections funding—a task that can be far less of a hurdle for major-party candidates, who have party organizations to help out.

States with a tradition of independents winning office tend to have laxer rules. In Minnesota, where former Gov. Jesse Ventura is perhaps the best-known independent in U.S. history to have won statewide office, candidate Peter Hutchinson, a former state finance commissioner and superintendent of schools in Minneapolis, does not need to collect any signatures. He’s running as the Independence Party candidate, which automatically guarantees him a spot on the ballot.

In Oregon, Westlund said he doesn’t mind having to hop over a high bar to get on the ballot, but, “that hurdle should be levelly placed. If someone wants to advocate for a candidate being on the ballot, that is not the same as voting for a candidate.”

5 Responses to “Independents Face Petitioning Hurdles”

  1. Citizens For A Better Veterans Home Says:



    “I believe strongly that the best part of our political system is the active and interested exchange of ideas and concerns, no matter what they are, and we got that in spades. I felt like I learned a lot about speaking in public, we made some friends and got some support - so that made it all worthwhile for me. I’m sorry the other candidates, especially the Democrats did not show up, I think they would have learned as much as I did.

    To carry this idea further, the Democrats - just don’t show up at the important and often difficult small town meetings and make their case. You should know that I was an active member for many years. I don’t want to be negative as I move forward with this new political party and campaign, but I think the national and state Democratic parties just carry too much baggage to ever by viable in any real sense. By not showing up, they have allowed the opposition to paint them into a corner and they have been unwilling or unable to re-frame their message with the general public. They seem to be short of any new ideas or approaches to the issues we face. Half seriously, I suggested several years ago that we shut the party down and all join the Republican Party and become truly a one-party state. I felt it would have been more effective and more fun then what I’ve seen the Democrats doing. But alas, as with most of my great ideas it fell on deaf ears - ha!

    Change in politics is slow to be sure but we have an opportunity in this cycle to offer a realistic alternative to the voters.

    If I had the money to run an opinion poll on the question. “If you were offered a new fiscally conservative, socially enlightened political party in opposition to both the Republicans and the Democrats would you consider voting for it?” I think you and I both know that the answer would be overwhelmingly yes, especially in this district and at this time. Anyway that’s my thinking. I’m only human, so of course I have doubts and concerns, but I figure anyone who tries to start something new faces the same issues. The night before I started the Boise Weekly I had this flash of doubt and then it passed. I know it will be tough, but I am very tenacious, I’m very determined and I think we’re on the right track.”

    1524 West Hays Street; Boise ID 83702

  2. Says:

    This article forgot to mention Russ Diamond, a strong independent candidate for governor of Pennsylvania. He has to collect a staggering 67,070 signatures to get on the ballot.

    Diamond founded the non-partisan grassroots organization PACleanSweep in July, 2005 in response to the PA General Assembly’s now-infamous midnight pay raise. The group was instrumental in organizing public opposition to the increase, advocating a first-ever non-retention of a state Supreme Court justice, pressuring the legislature to repeal the pay raise, and unifying over 100 challengers to incumbent lawmakers.

    Visit his website at:

  3. IndiPol Says:

    I believe the article is incorrect about Ventura in Minnesota. He was elected under the Reform Party and later changed his affiliation to either Independent or Minnesota Independent Party.

  4. Austin Cassidy Says:

    Correct, Ventura was elected as a Reform Party candidate just as the party was falling into pieces… they switched over to the Minnesota Independence Party.

  5. Mike Grimes Says:

    The Minnesota Independence Party gave it’s ballot line to the Reform party in 96 where Dean Barkley earned major party status. The party dropped the Reform name in 2000, but nothing else changed. In any event Tim Penny (governor candidate), Dave Hutchinson (auditor candidate), and Dean Alger (Secratary of State candidate) all earned the Independence Party 4 more years of major party status in 2002.

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