Winning an election is never easy. But it may be harder to get on the ballot in the first place in some places. Just ask longtime Michigan Rep. John Conyers, who might be excluded from the ballot because of mistakes with his signatures.
Bill Fuller should know. He did something pretty rare: win an election as an independent. Back in 1983 in Alabama, Fuller had to beat the bushes for signatures just to get on the ballot. But he beat the odds.
It became easier when he joined the Democratic Party, winning five subsequent terms in the Alabama legislature. He did a stint as commissioner for the Department of Human Resources, and made a run for Congress. Now he’s on the campaign trail again, trying to qualify as an independent candidate again, for the Alabama legislature.
I caught up with Fuller, now an attorney at law in LaFayette, Alabama, at Valley Haven, an Alabama school and community center that was having a race and festival for kids. He was out trying to secure signatures to qualify as an independent candidate for the state legislature, telling the locals about his position on the issues.
I asked how many signatures he needed. “I have enough for the minimum,” he told me. “But I need a lot more, because they’ll try to disqualify some of them.”
How tough is it? “From top to bottom, my district is 200 miles long,” Fuller told me. “I’ve put a lot of miles on my vehicle.”
By rule, Alabama requires signatures equal to three percent of the total votes cast in the last election. But, as Fuller hinted, you have to collect a lot more than required, just in case.
To find out how about the number of signatures you’ll need to qualify, if you aren’t nominated by a major political party, check out Richard Winger’s Ballot Access News. This veteran Libertarian Party supporter documents cases and provides links to interviews with candidates who have had to go get those signatures just to become a possible choice for voters.
According to Ballot Access News, only three states don’t require a bundle of signatures. Florida, Louisiana, and Oklahoma just require an independent candidate to pay a filing fee. But several states require tens of thousands of signatures. These include three Southern states (Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina), three blue states (California, Illinois and Washington) and Montana.
Michigan, where Conyers fell short of the minimum required, only requires 1,000 signatures. But most of those who signed up weren’t registered or had not done so on time. But at least he’s not like fellow Michigan politician Thad McCotter, who had to rush to get signatures for another term in Congress after an abortive presidential bid. McCotter is in hot water after staffers turned in fake ones.
In an essay, Winger points out that “Very few people are aware of the ballot access problem in the United States. Each state writes its own ballot access laws, even for federal office. Since there is no single standard for the whole nation, the public and even the media are ignorant about ballot access laws. By contrast, the campaign spending laws (for federal office) are uniform for the entire nation…[and are] familiar to the press and most political activists.” Winger concludes by noting that the United States is behind other democracies in terms of granting ballot access to candidates.