Five Facts on the Battle for Ballot Access
Polling from Gallup shows that a majority of American voters would like to see more choices on the ballot to break up the existing duopoly of the Republican and Democratic parties. Unsurprisingly, this is especially true among political independents, who happen to make up the largest proportion of the electorate.
And yet, competitors to the two major parties faces insuperably high hurdles in getting space on states’ general-election ballots. Time and time again, groups trying to get on election ballots have had to fight against entrenched political interests to have their chance on Election Day, with some legal fights going all the way to the US Supreme Court.
Here are Five Facts on the battle to expand ballot access in America:
1. State control of election laws has helped create the complex ballot access laws that favor the incumbent parties.
Each state has developed its own set of laws on how candidates get on the ballot. This process was unregulated for much of our nation's history because the government didn't provide the actual ballots. Instead, political parties made their own ballots with their candidates' names on them. But in the late 1800s, states started printing their own ballots to fight against corruption and too much power in the hands of party-political machines. At that time, the Republicans and Democrats were the main parties, and they used the new ballot rules to stifle competition.
2. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment was affirmed for election laws in 1968.
One of the earliest cases that set the stage for pushing back to help new parties get better access to the ballot was the 1968 case Williams v. Rhodes. In this case, the US Supreme Court held that state laws regulating the selection of presidential electors must meet the requirements of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This ruling underlined the principle that states cannot unfairly discriminate against certain political parties or candidates when setting up laws governing the electoral process.
3. In the 1970s, the Supreme Court addressed outrageous primary filing fees that made it difficult for less wealthy candidates to run for office.
The American political system has long grappled with the question of wealth disparity among candidates. Bullock v. Carter andLubin v. Panish were two landmark rulings that addressed this issue head-on. In Bullock v. Carter, the Court ruled that the Texas primary filing fee system, which required prohibitively high fees, violated the Equal Protection Clause. Similarly, in Lubin v. Panish, the Court held that states could not require indigent candidates to pay filing fees they could not afford. These cases laid the foundation for challenging wealth-based barriers to political participation.
4. The Supreme Court has ensured that independent candidates cannot be singled out for unduly burdensome filing deadlines.
In 1983’s Anderson v. Celebrezze, the Supreme Court struck down a state law that imposed early filing requirements for independent presidential candidates. The decision was based on the First Amendment right of freedom of association, which, the Court ruled, was violated by the early filing deadline. This ruling led to the repeal of many state laws that hindered ballot access for third parties and independent candidates.
5. State Democratic and Republican parties continue to seek to limit third-party ballot access.
In Arizona this year, the Arizona Democratic Party sued No Labels and Secretary of State Adrian Fontes seeking to revoke No Labels’ ballot access for the 2024 presidential election. No Labels secured 41,663 valid signatures, more than required by state law and was certified by the state. The Arizona Democratic Party states in its legal filings that having No Labels on the ballot will make it more difficult to elect Democratic Party candidates. Likewise, Republicans in Montana have repeatedly sought to advance a bill that would raise the threshold for the number of petition signatures required for a third-party candidate to appear on the ballot.