When Texans head to the ballot box this November, they’ll be able to vote for Republicans, Democrats or Libertarians.
If they want to choose a candidate affiliated with another political group, they might have to write in the name of their chosen candidate. That’s because five other political parties seeking to get on the ballot — America’s Party of Texas, the Christian Party of Texas, the Green Party of Texas, None of the Above and the Texas Independent Party — didn’t secure the 47,183 valid signatures needed for ballot access this fall.
“We only got like 400 or 500 signatures out of the 50,000 that we need,” said Jan Richards, a Green Party of Texas candidate who’s running for governor.
“It’s a challenge. There’s really no other way to describe it — and they definitely don’t make it easy,” said Andy Prior, the former state chairman for America’s Party of Texas who’s also the party’s nominee for land commissioner. According to its website, America’s Party supports a pro-life and pro-liberty platform. It collected fewer than 250 signatures.
All five of the parties that missed out filed the necessary paperwork with the Texas Secretary of State’s office to gain ballot access this November, spokesman Sam Taylor said. That kicked off a 75-day period that began March 13 to get the signatures needed. But when the deadline passed at midnight Wednesday, none had collected enough.
Getting the nearly 50,000 signatures is an uphill battle for most parties outside the mainstream because they’re essentially competing with each other for ballot access, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. The signatures must come from registered voters who didn’t vote in either the March 6 Republican or Democratic primaries or participate in another party’s 2018 convention.
“You’ve got to dragoon them as they’re on their way into the grocery store or the shopping mall,” Jillson said. “[The parties] are competing for the same team of voters to sign their petitions, and because Texas has such low voter turnout, it’s a big pool of people — it’s just that those people are not closely connected to or don’t care much about politics.”
And getting the names can be costly. Both Richards and Prior said they collected names through volunteers and one-on-one outreach. Had Prior hired a company to get the required 47,183 signatures by the the May 29 deadline, it would’ve cost his party upwards of $300,000 — around $5 or $6 per signature, he said.
“People who donate to political things want to donate based upon an actual candidate on the ballot,” Prior said. “Most people don’t really think about spending money to get ballot access in the first place.”
In order to get their candidates on the general election ballot without a petition, parties must have at least one candidate win more than 5 percent of the vote in a statewide race during the previous election cycle. Libertarian petroleum engineer Mark Miller barely cleared that hurdle for his party in 2016, winning 5.3 percent of the vote in the race against Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian.
The two parties other than the Democrats and Republicans that often collect enough votes in the previous election to secure ballot access for the following cycle are the Libertarians and the Greens.
But the Green Party, which runs on a liberal platform and is sometimes blamed for siphoning off votes from Democratic candidates, fell short in 2016 after Democrats fielded candidates in every statewide judicial race for the first time since 2010. The Green Party typically has relied on judicial races that lack Democratic candidates to reach the 5 percent threshold.
There’s a last-ditch effort parties can utilize to get elected into office next year: filing a declaration of write-in candidacy with either the secretary of state’s office or with the county judge, depending on the offices sought.
The window to file declarations is from July 21 through Aug. 20, Taylor said. A representative from the Greens confirmed to The Texas Tribune that they plan to file the necessary paperwork to have at least one of their candidates eligible as a write-in this fall. Spokespeople from the Christian Party of Texas, None of the Above and the Texas Independent Party did not respond to requests for comment.
“It’s really important to me that we offer an alternative solution to what’s already going to be on the ballot,” said Richards, the Green Party gubernatorial candidate. “I want to try to speak for people who might not already have a voice on the ballot.”
Disclosure: Southern Methodist University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.