National and State Parties are Partners in the Struggle for Ballot Access

Prepared by
Phil Huckelberry, former GPUS Co-Chair and Ballot Access Committee Co-Chair
Last updated August 31, 2007

Structurally, the Green Party of the United States is a federation of State Green Parties. In affiliating with GPUS, a state party is making a commitment to the other state parties that it will work hard to get, and maintain, a ballot line. This is one of the primary reasons for the entire affiliation/federation concept.

Ballot access, therefore, is something that the individual state parties and GPUS have a shared vested interest in. A secured ballot line in Alaska is important to the state party in Maine. This shared interest and commitment is about much more than just the presidential line, of course. As we vie for 51 ballot lines, we need to think in terms of what this mutual interest – and in particular, the mutual help necessary to actualize it – really means for Greens.

Mutual help recognizes that the array of barriers erected to keep alternative political parties off the ballot are not equally surmountable. Parties in states with low ballot access barriers need to help parties in states with higher barriers. Without this kind of support, state parties facing steep hurdles will get locked into a pattern of struggling primarily just for ballot placement, and will not be able to develop at the same rate as their peers elsewhere. GPUS is committed to creating a level playing field where we can all get on with the work of actually being a political party.

Mutual help recognizes that resources within the various states are not equal. Some state parties developed years earlier, or encountered more acceptance in the state’s political culture, or managed to recruit members with substantial personal resources, or encountered lesser legal barriers to establishing and maintaining ballot status. Other state parties have had a harder time maintaining a core group of people, have had their membership spread thin across large geographic areas, or have encountered numerous other obstacles which have put them on the shallow end of the development curve. GPUS is a place where shared resources can bypass artificial state boundaries, and help Green Parties everywhere thrive. When states with resources help states with fewer resources, and they grow, then they can, in turn, help more states in the next cycle.

Mutual help recognizes that a state party which is able to complete its ballot access work early in an election cycle is better able to develop its in-state candidate slates, rather than coming to the finish line too exhausted to take advantage of access to the ballots. Likewise, it recognizes that timely help will allow a state to be doing the recruitment and training and running of candidates, at the same time as the ballot access drive, so that both jobs get done. When one state is able to mount stronger campaigns, it often has a regional – if not national – ripple effect, pulling neighboring state parties up along with it.

Mutual help recognizes that a successful presidential campaign must primarily develop and operate at a national level, and to do so requires as many ballot lines as possible. The success of the campaign can in turn lead to maintenance of ballot lines, so that state parties are not forced into yet another round of signature gathering in the next cycle. Having a strong presidential campaign, campaigning in all states, brings media attention, rallies the volunteer base, confounds the myths, and provides local candidacies with a coattail effect.

One of the most significant benchmarks for a presidential campaign is to win 5% of the vote nationally. Five percent is not just a convenient round number – it is also the standard that the Federal Elections Commission employs in determining whether a political party can receive federal matching funds. If we win 5%, then we are eligible for millions of dollars. We can not hope to win 5%, though, if our presidential nominee is not on the ballot all across the country.

For state parties, securing ballot lines is not simply a matter of living up to an affiliation commitment. It is recognizing that your ballot line affects the ability of other state Green Parties to succeed, as well. Similarly, for state parties which are already on the ballot, understanding the importance of helping other state parties get on the ballot is critical. We are all stronger when we partner than when we each go it alone.

The GPUS Ballot Access Committee is committed to facilitating the process of securing ballot lines in each of the United States. To do this, the committee and the national party generally need financial support, which means that all state parties must recognize the critical importance of emphasizing fundraising at the national level. This also requires that state parties with ballot lines try to identify other resources – especially people who might be able to visit other states to petition – which could be brought to bear to support colleagues in other states. Most critically, this requires that state parties confronting significant ballot access obstacles come to the national party and ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness when a state party is unable to overcome an oppressive ballot access regime on its own; rather, it would be a sign of weakness if a state party had no national organization in place to offer assistance.

How can the Ballot Access Committee partner with your state party to secure your ballot line?