By Greg Stempfle – LPM Special Bylaws Committee Chair
For the first time in history the Libertarian Party of Michigan has earned enough votes to achieve the same ballot status under state election law as the major party Democrats and Republicans. This has traditionally been referred to as “major party status” and will result in significant changes to how our party operates for the next few years. Election law can be messy so I have written this FAQ to help answer the many questions party members, including myself, may be having.
[Please note: Speaking of messy, there are problems with the semantics of term “major party” as it’s applied to ballot status in a poorly written law from 1995. I address this at the end of the article.]
Why is our ballot status changing after this election?
Michigan (and every other state) has a legal system for political parties where Republicans and Democrats end up in a category for “major” parties and all others fall into another category for “minor” parties. There is a specific mechanism for becoming a major party and this year the Libertarian Party achieved it. Under Michigan Election Law, so called major party ballot status is achieved when the candidate from a political party, whose name is at the top of the ballot, receives a specific number of votes. This number is equal to 5% of all votes cast for Secretary of State in the preceding election (MCL 168.532).
In our case, Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson received 172,726 votes. The total number of votes cast for Secretary of State in 2014 was 3,080,795. 172,726/3,080,795 = 5.6% which is greater than the 5% threshold. Interestingly, we were not the only third party to achieve this feat. The new Working Class Party, whose top of the ticket was State Board of Education candidate Mary Ann Hering, received 224,122 votes. Prior to this year, the last time a third party obtained major party status was in 1996 when Reform Party Presidential candidate Ross Perot earned enough votes for them to be a major party in 1998.
Under the bylaws of the LPM, we are required to hold a special convention within 90 days of obtaining major party status.
LPM bylaws VI.3. “All members of the Party who attend and register at a convention shall be delegates, unless the Party shall receive major party status. In the latter event, new bylaws shall be enacted by a special convention to convene within 90 days of such time as an LPM statewide candidate receives sufficient votes to gain major party status.”
What will change for the Libertarian Party of Michigan?
The most significant change is that many of our candidates will be “nominated” by participating in the 2018 August primary election rather than being nominated at a party caucus or convention. Some candidates will still be nominated at the 2018 state convention. Candidates for the primary will need to collect signatures or pay a filing fee.
Candidates nominated at the August primary (major parties only):
- Governor (15,000-30,000 signatures, 100 from at least half of all CDs)
- US Senate (15,000-30,000 signatures, 100 from at least half of all CDs)
- US Congress (1,000-2,000 signatures)
- State Senate (500-1,000 signatures or $100 filing fee)
- State House (200-400 signatures or $100 filing fee)
- County offices (signatures or filing fee)
- Township Offices (signatures)
- Precinct Delegates to county convention (no signatures)
Candidates nominated at the fall state convention (major and minor parties):
- Lieutenant Governor
- Secretary of State
- Attorney General
- State Board of Education
- Board of Regents of U of M
- Board of Trustees of Michigan State
- Board of Governors of Wayne State
- Justices of the Supreme Court
- Presidential Electors
Another change will be the election of the first Libertarian precinct delegates who, under state law, will serve as delegates to Libertarian county and state conventions. Adherence to state election law would also result in changes to the timing of our conventions, certain aspects of affiliate organization, and the structure of our state executive committee. State party officials are to be elected to two year terms with a State Central Committee consisting of two men and two women from each of our 14 congressional districts.
Who is drafting new bylaws?
A committee, chaired by myself, Greg Stempfle and consisting of six other party members; Bill Hall, Emily Salvette, Jeff Wood, Jim Fulner, Jamie Lewis, and Lawrence Johnson, will be drafting and recommending changes to our current bylaws. We will be meeting to December 11 in Lansing to vote on our recommendations. In January, I hope to attend as many affiliate meetings as I can to discuss the recommended changes with party members in advance of the convention.
When will the LPM hold a special convention?
The LPM will hold a special convention on Saturday, February 4, 2017 in Lansing to approve new bylaws. This special convention will coincide with the annual Defenders of Liberty Awards Banquet. A second state convention will be held later in 2017, similar to our current bylaws, for regular party business such as the election of officers and platform discussion.
When will these changes occur?
The exact changeover date is unclear but probably not until the middle of 2018. The ballot status of a political party in Michigan does not change immediately. A number of minor parties have nominated candidates for office in the year following their loss of ballot status, implying the change does not take place until the next election season. Libertarian precinct delegates, who will serve as delegates to our conventions will not be elected until the August 2018 primary so logically, any candidates the LPM runs prior to August 2018 would be nominated under minor party rules. This means that the LPM should be allowed to nominate candidates by caucus or convention in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and in any special elections in 2017 or early 2018.
Is the LPM technically a “major party”?
Now back to that problem with semantics. Traditionally “major party” ballot status meant we would be in the same legal category as the Democratic and Republican Parties and subject to the same election laws; primary elections, precinct delegates, etc. This is what is referred to by “major party status” in the LPM bylaws VI.3. When the LPM bylaws were written, there was no specific definition for “major” or “minor” party in Michigan Election Law, it was simply implied that major parties are those that participate in the primary and minor parties are those which don’t. However, in 1995, the same year Ross Perot formed the Reform Party, for the very first time the state legislature defined “major political party” and limited this category to two parties.
MCL 168.16 “Major political party” defined.
168.16. As used in this act, “major political party” means each of the 2 political parties whose candidate for the office of secretary of state received the highest and second highest number of votes at the immediately preceding general election in which a secretary of state was elected.
So what does “major political party” mean as opposed to the traditional de facto major party ballot status? State law specifically mentions “major political party” in three sections, none of which deal with ballot access;
- In Chapter II, members of the board of state canvassers and board of county canvassers are appointed from the major political parties and their duties described therein.
- In Chapter XXVIII, election inspectors are appointed from the major political parties and their duties described therein. Members of “minor” parties may be appointed as election inspectors but a specific mechanism is not described (674(2)). Major political parties are also allowed to contest the appointment of election inspectors.
- In Chapter XXXIX, on election days members of major political parties verify the ballot equipment is sealed and are entitled to security of election materials and equipment.
The two parties that are defined as “major political parties” have the same ballot access laws as other parties that nominate candidates by primary elections. They simply have additional enumerated rights regarding the conduct and administration of elections. Members of so called “minor” parties may also be appointed as election inspectors although nothing specifically prohibits minor parties from the other listed rights. This is the only reference to “minor” parties in Michigan Election Law and while not defined, it infers that minor parties are simply those which are not the two major parties. The only other reference to major or minor parties is this pseudo definition of “nonmajor” parties.
MCL 168.686b Nonmajor political party; notice of county caucus or state convention.
Sec. 686b. A political party that is not a major political party, as defined in section 16, and that is required to nominate candidates at a county caucus or state convention shall, at least 10 days before holding the county caucus or state convention to nominate candidates, notify in writing the secretary of state and the bureau of elections of the date, time, and location of the county caucus or state convention of that political party.
“A political party that is not a major political party, as defined in section 16” means all parties besides the Democrats and Republicans, and “required to nominate candidates at a county caucus or state convention” means the Green, US Taxpayers, and Natural Law Parties. The Libertarian and Working Class Parties will not fall into either of these categories in 2018.
So here are the semantic problems I’ve uncovered with regard to how we describe our current situation.
- “Major Political Party” no longer refers to ballot status but to enumerated rights with regard to election administration and oversight.
- The LPM and its candidates have the exact same ballot status as a both “major political parties” but is not a “major political party” by definition.
- Under the 168.16 definition of “major political party”, the LPM is inferred to be a “minor” party but under 168.686b, the LPM does not fit the definition of a “nonmajor” party.
Now that the Libertarians and Working Class Party have obtained what was formerly known as “major party status” (and now has no name) but are not “major political parties” by definition, what should we call ourselves? Some have suggested using the term “Primary Party” but that is even more confusing since primary means singular and there will be four parties competing in the 2018 primary election.
I am going to stick with using the term “major party status” because it is understood that we have the exact same ballot status as the Democrat and Republican Parties and the term is consistent with our current bylaws. Even if we are not a major party by definition, our bylaws must be updated in order to accommodate election law so we can properly run candidates for office in the primary election.
Greg Stempfle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org