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LP ballot-access expert Bill Redpath talks about petition gathering

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Bill Redpath has been a candidate for Virginia Governor (2001), the U.S. Senate (2008), and the U.S. House of Representatives (10th District, 2010). He is also national treasurer of the Libertarian Party and a veteran of more than two decades as a ballot-access coordinator and collector of petition signatures.

At a Northern Virginia fundraising event this week for Gary Johnson, a candidate for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination, the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner caught up with Redpath to ask him questions about ballot-access laws, the challenge faced by third-party and independent candidates to put their names on the ballot, and his own experience as a petitioner.

To put the LP’s presidential ticket on the ballot in 2012, Redpath said, will take “a lot of petitioning,” ranging from about 1,500 signatures in Iowa that can be collected by volunteers to as many as “51,739 valid signatures on a new party petition” in Oklahoma, where the Libertarian effort fell short and the party has turned to litigation to challenge the state’s ballot-access requirements.

’50 states and D.C.’

Despite these challenges and setbacks, Redpath explained, “we’re still hopeful that we’ll have our presidential ticket on the ballot in all 50 states and D.C.,” although the “Libertarian National Committee is probably going to spend about a quarter of a million dollars on ballot access,” in addition to expenditures for that purpose by individual state parties and the presidential campaign.

Ballot access, said Redpath, “is a major undertaking.”

Virginia’s ballot-access laws came to national attention recently when only two candidates, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, were able to qualify for the Republican presidential primary ballot. Redpath has some suggestions for fixing Virginia’s requirements.

Until about 1968, he explained, Virginia required only 1,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot for president and other statewide offices.

Virginia reforms

Redpath suggests that “it would be good to reduce the number of signatures to get on the ballot for a given office to one-tenth of one percent of the number of registered voters for that office.”

For statewide office in Virginia, in that case, he calculated, “we’re probably talking about 3,000 signatures to get on the ballot.”

Redpath considers one-tenth of one percent to be “a sufficiently high hurdle that people have to go out and work” to get their candidates on the ballot. It is, he added, “a hurdle that is fair” because it is “not overly taxing but at the same time it will be enough of a deterrent to keep completely frivolous candidates off the ballot.”

Worst and best

Asked to name the best and the worst states for ballot-access requirement, Redpath immediately responded that Colorado is among the easiest because “there is just paperwork that needs to be filed.”

Florida, he noted, “used to be one of the hardest, now it’s one of the easiest.”

Ballot access requirements, he continued, have “improved over the last 20 to 25 years.”

There are still “bad states,” however, and one of them is Wyoming.

While the Libertarian Party currently has ballot status in Wyoming “because we get, time and again, over two percent for U.S. House so we can remain on the ballot,” other third-party and independent candidates need to get 8,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot in Wyoming and, as Redpath pointed out, “that’s a lot of sigs in Wyoming!”

Another difficult state is Oklahoma, which Redpath identified as “about the worst. To get on the ballot as an independent presidential candidate takes about 45,000 signatures in Oklahoma.”

North Carolina is also difficult for presidential ballot access, but Redpath also pointed to states where “it’s tougher to get on the ballot for U.S. House or for non-statewide offices.”

He noted that in general elections in Georgia, that state has only “had one non-R, non-D candidate for U.S. House in several decades.”

That has also been the case in North Carolina, where it is “extremely difficult to get on the ballot for U.S. House as a third-party candidate or independent.”

Petitioning experience

Ironically, North Carolina proved to be the place where Redpath has had some of his most successful efforts at collecting signatures.

He estimates that, over the years, he has collected more than 10,000 signatures, but his personal best one-day effort was at the North Carolina State University precinct in Raleigh on election day in 1996.

“I hold the record for the most number of signatures gathered in a single day,” he explained.

“It was an extremely fortunate situation where they had a polling place that was too small for the horde of college students that descended on it,” he said, “and a theater line formed outside that didn’t go away for hours. The acceptance rate was 80 or 90 percent. I got 1,179 [signatures] in one day.”

Redpath said that the reactions he gets from members of the public when he is out petitioning are generally good.

“Overall,” he said, “people are pretty nice when it comes to petitioning. Some people actually thank me for being out there. I think people know how few people will actually go out and solicit signatures from strangers and [that not] very many people want to do that [so] they appreciate it when somebody is out there. Even some people who refuse to sign actually thank me for being there.”

He singled out Giant Foods for its civic-mindedness in allowing petitioners to stand in front of their stores to collect signatures (with advance permission). Giant customers, he said, “appreciate it.”

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