1996 Libertarian convention helps loosen ballot roadblocks

Holding a national nominating convention in a presidential election year is a storied tradition of the major parties. However, for third parties, ballot access roadblocks can be so steep that they have to nominate their candidates a year earlier just to get a start on the process.

In 1994, the Libertarian Party made the risky choice of setting its convention for the election year, 1996. This gave it court standing to sue for more realistic ballot requirements. The risk paid off in several states.

1994 Perspective

January 3, 1994, from Steve Givot, responding to criticisms from Bob Hunt, of the LP-US's decision to move the presidential nominating convention from 1995 to 1996:

Was the "collective judgement" that we would still get our presidential ticket on the ballot in all 50+DC states?

The LNC (Libertarian National Committee) did not take a vote on this matter, so no one can say. However, it was the collective judgement of the LNC to move the convention to the summer of 1996, knowing that this posed some additional risk to 50+DC ballot access. The LNC also knew that we wouldn't have standing in court to sue the states which pose a problem until we were under contract to have our convention in 1996. So it would be impossible to bring the issue of fair ballot access in these states to court until we did so.


Miracles are always welcomed by the LP. However, we cannot sit idly by under the burden of onerous ballot access laws which are getting no easier (in most problem states), and wait for them to change. We must force the issue, and that is what the LNC has done.

Would we have the resources in 1996 to respond with a successful ballot drives in all of those remaining states during approximately 5 to 6 weeks ending in August?

That depends on what happens in court, doesn't it? If we win in court, then we might have very little burden at all. For example, there are precedents that say that if the petitioning time is shortened by 50%, then the signature requirement is reduced by 50%. I'd say that is a very, very positive development for the LP!

If we lose in court, then we will have done our best to try to force fairness, and we may miss out on being on the ballot in a few states. But this will only happen in 1996, not in 2000. I personally think it is worth gambling to bring about major ballot access reform if the downside is missing a few states once and only once. If we don't try, we will never succeed, Bob.


My understanding is that the LP planned on filing the first lawsuit (Washington State, I believe) today! Yes, today, because we planned on signing the convention contract today, which means that we have legal standing to sue. This gives us two years to find out where our problems are. By January, 1996, (and maybe much sooner) we should know which states we have lost in court, have appeals heard, and know where we stand.


I am worried about the effect of this (what I unfortunately think is a premature) policy change.

I understand your worry. I think that most LNC members who supported the 1996 date share some of it.

What concerns me is your use of the word "premature". Making a commitment to a date which gives us legal standing is inherently risky. Period. If there were no risk, we would not have standing and would not have a court case. Ipso facto, we must be at risk to force the issue to the courts.


The LP itself is inherently a risky enterprise. It, and its candidates, spend millions for what is essentially very long shots at electing a few candidates to local office (except in Alaska and NH). We spend about $1 million every four years with no chance whatsoever of electing a president. This isn't even a long shot -- it is a non-shot. But we do it anyway. Why? Because we need to keep pushing the system to its limits in order to budge it a bit.

Early 1996 Perspective

From a February 27, 1996, message to the LPUS mailing list by Richard Winger:

Having the Libertarian Party national presidential convention in July 1996 instead of September 1995 is an experiment. We won't be able to evaluate it until this calendar year is almost over. I was in favor of this experiment, but so were plenty of other people.

I was in favor of it mostly because people who pay attention to politics will (in theory) think of the Libertarian Party as a "real" political party, if the LP imitates the Republicans and Democrats and nominates in the summer of the presidential election year, and also if the Libertarian Party uses its own presidential primaries to help it choose its nominee.

However, I know that the LP isn't yet in the same league with the Dems & Reps, and it may very well be that the practical advantages of an early convention will turn out to be greater, than the advantages of a summer of the election year convention.

But there have already been concrete gains, because of our decision to nominate in the summer of 1996. Specifically, the states of Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington state, West Virginia, as well as D.C., all changed their laws (administratively or legislatively) to permit unqualified parties to petition, BEFORE that gorup has chosen its presidential candidate. Furthermore, there are bills pending in the Iowa and New Hampshire legislature to authorize this. Therefore, we can say that the Libertarian Party has contributed to political freedom. These are gains not just for our freedom to maneuver, but for all non-established political parties freedom. And I suspect there will be additional legal gains in this area, in the next few months.

Also, the summer 1996 convention date makes it possible for anyone seeking the Libertarian Party nomination to attempt to qualify for primary season matching funds. Under the old schedule, this was literally impossible. Obviously, the ability to qualify, is distinct of the question of whether to accept the money. The ability to qualify is a gain, because it is a concrete marker of success that may come in handy later, relative to debates, etc.