As the 2024 elections approach, the political landscape is ripe for independent candidates seeking to challenge the status quo. Running outside of the traditional party system, however, comes with a few hurdles to jump and a unique set of challenges
Whether you’re running for local office or aspire to lead at the national level, the first challenge is securing a spot on the ballot.
As part of Good Party’s mission to break the duopoly that’s strangling our democracy, this guide is designed to walk independent candidates through the complexities of ballot qualification criteria.
Ballot access qualifications can vary significantly between different states and offices, ranging from minimum age requirements to the number of signatures needed by various secretaries of state.
Our goal is to provide practical advice to help steer candidates and their campaign teams toward resources that will help them navigate this crucial step in the electoral process.
Ballot access is the process through which a candidate officially places their name on the election ballot. For many political offices at the local level, one must only be 18 years old and a legal resident of their state or county. In six states, 18 is also the minimum age to run for governor:
Governorships in other states have age qualifications of between 21 and 30 years old, with 30 being the most common minimum age. State legislative officers must be between 18 and 30. This is again determined by the rules in individual states, and it is subject to change.
It’s the Constitution of the United States that sets the criteria for Congress and the presidency, and presidential candidates must be at least 35 years old to qualify. In Article 1, Sections 2 and 3 respectively, the minimum age to run for the House of Representatives is 25 and the minimum age for the Senate is 30 years old.
Article II sets the minimum age to run for the presidency at 35 years old. This is the only office in the United States that requires candidates to be “natural born citizens.”
For independent candidates who meet the age and residency requirements, the next step in the ballot access process typically involves collecting a certain number of signatures from registered voters in the state or county you hope to serve. Independent and third-party presidential hopefuls must petition each state to be included on the national ballot.
In addition to meeting minimum age requirements and gathering signatures, prospective candidates may also need to pay a filing fee. Although fee requirements may vary from state to state, and some states don’t require a fee at all, each state has its own petition and filing deadlines for formally stating your intention to run for office.
Missing the deadlines to file as a candidate means losing your chance to run in that election.
Although some candidate qualifications are standardized, the necessity for signatures, filing deadlines, and other qualifications is set by the legislatures in individual states.
California requires independent candidates to gather signatures amounting to 1% of the total votes in the previous election for statewide offices. In lieu of the voter signatures, candidates can pay a filing fee of 2% of the annual salary for the office. The next declaration of candidacy deadline is December 8, 2023.
The state of Texas has one of the highest signature requirements in the country. For statewide offices, independent candidates must gather signatures equal to 1% of the total votes cast in the preceding gubernatorial election. The declaration to run as an independent deadline is December 11, 2023.
New York offers a unique challenge due to its fusion voting system, where candidates can appear on multiple party lines. Independents must navigate these complexities to gain ballot access.
Florida requires fewer signatures than some other states but has strict guidelines regarding the format and submission of petitions.
Candidates should consult their state's election website or local election offices for the most current and detailed information. A great place to start your inquiries is the Secretary of State office for your location. The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) website contains links to authenticated documents and other election information for each state.
Since a successful petitioning campaign is crucial for independent candidates, it helps to understand the petitioning process and use best practices to ensure that your intention to run is launched without a hitch.
Key strategies for petitioning campaigns include:
Starting early: Begin collecting signatures well in advance of the deadline. This provides a buffer for validating signatures and addressing any issues.
Understanding the rules: Each state has specific rules regarding who can collect and sign petitions. Some states require petitioners to be residents or registered voters in the state, and signatures might need to be notarized.
Organizing your campaign team: A strong team of volunteers can help streamline the process of collecting signatures. Training sessions to educate volunteers on the rules and best practices will help avoid problems and enhance the effectiveness of the campaign.
Verifying signatures: Regularly check the validity of signatures. Invalid signatures can lead to disqualification if they make up a significant portion of the petition.
One of the goals of this guide is to help independent candidates navigate the legal challenges put in place by the political establishment. That way, you’ll be better prepared to avoid any pitfalls that could derail your candidacy.
Before you begin, make sure to consult with attorneys who specialize in election law, especially as it pertains to your specific state or county. If you are denied ballot access for any reason, know the procedure for appealing the decision in your state or locality.
Time is often limited for such appeals, so prepare early and act fast.
One of the best things about increased interest in the independent political movement is the availability of resources that are designed to help indie candidates and voters. As mentioned before, the first place to look for resources is on your Secretary of State website. It will contain the most accurate and current election information, and many of the documents and forms are available for download right there.
After that, a quick Google search will help you locate both general and office- or state-specific election resources and tools. For your convenience, here are some of the most reliable resources for independent candidates:
Here are three reliable places to obtain information about ballot access criteria:
#1: Ballotpedia: A comprehensive resource for information on ballot access for both presidential and other public office candidates in the United States. It covers state-specific filing requirements and deadlines, which are crucial for candidates to understand:
Presidential Candidates: Ballotpedia - Presidential Candidates.
State and Congressional Candidates: Ballotpedia - Other Candidates.
#2: State Election Agencies: It's essential for candidates to contact their state election agencies for detailed and state-specific information about running for public office.
#3: The Green Papers: This is a database with information about filing deadlines, primary and election dates, and offices on a state-by-state basis. It also contains information about elections in U.S. territories.
One of the best places for candidates and voters to get information about the independent movement is through Good Party. In addition to a glossary of political terminology, our website provides step-by-step guides for running as an independent candidate.
Other articles include advice on deciding what office to run for, filing with the appropriate board, understanding state election laws, paying filing fees, gathering signatures, submitting nomination papers, and more.
We go farther by providing one-on-one mentorship through Good Party Academy, as well as free tools to help guide your independent campaign for office. Check out Good Party’s AI Campaign Manager, which provides access to free tools and expert support throughout the campaign launch process and beyond.
There are also resources and training programs provided by a variety of organizations. For example, many Secretary of State offices have candidate outreach and training available at various locations.
The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) has compiled a list of organizations that host candidate training programs and manage resources to help candidates run for office. This includes training programs for specific demographics, such as the Elevate: Campaign Training for People with Disabilities program.
These resources provide a solid foundation for independent candidates to begin their journey toward running for office in 2024. They offer a mix of general information, state-specific details, and specialized training programs to equip candidates with the necessary knowledge, tools, and skills to run for office.
For independent candidates, getting on the ballot in 2024 is a formidable but vital step towards contributing to the larger political discourse. Understanding the varied state laws and preparing a robust strategy are essential components of this process.
While the journey is challenging, the reward of bringing new, independent voices to the political arena is immeasurable. Good Party is proud to be one of these essential resources, and we work hard to offer the kind of support and assistance independent candidates need to run successfully.
Get your candidacy off to a good start and get connected today!