Greg Creswell and the adventures of third party primaries

Greg Creswell, Libertarian [3]
Congratulations to Greg Creswell for becoming the first Libertarian to appear in a primary election! His candidate paperwork was accepted by the Michigan Secretary of State to be placed on the August 8, 2017 special primary election for Michigan State House District 1 [1]. This special election was called to replace Democratic State Representative Brian Banks who resigned after pleading “guilty to a misdemeanor charge of filing false financial statements.”[2]

Greg Creswell is a current member of the Libertarian Party of Michigan’s state executive committee and has run for public office as a candidate for the party seven previous times including for Governor in 2006. Creswell will be the first member of a third party to appear in a primary election since 1998 and will be the first member of a third party ever to appear in a special primary election since Michigan election law was written in 1954.

2017 candidate listingThe Libertarian and Working Class Parties, along with the Republicans and Democratics, qualified to nominate candidates in the 2018 Michigan primary election due to their “top of ticket” candidate, the one appearing first on the ballot, earning enough votes in the 2016 general election to reach a specific threshold. Under Michigan election law, MCL 168.532, this threshold is set at 5% or more of all votes cast for Secretary of State in the previous election [4] and is colloquially known as “major party status” (Table 1). Otherwise, third parties nominate their candidates at a caucus or convention, so called “minor party status”.

Creswell’s listing in the primary election answers a lingering question many of us Libertarians had as to when our so called “major party status” actually begins. At the LPM special state convention on February 4th, I stated my belief that if any partisan elections are held before the August 2018 primary, such as a special election or a partisan city election, that the Libertarian and Working Class Parties would still nominate their candidate at a convention or caucus and not by a primary election. This was based on my own interpretation of Michigan election Law and on 40 years of precedent which had consistently ruled that the ballot status of a political party does not change until the following even-year election cycle (more on this later).

I’m glad that my prediction was incorrect. While it doesn’t really matter from a practical standpoint if we nominate candidates in the special election by primary or caucus, it does give the party good press. Appearing in primary elections in 2017 allows the LPM to claim that we are now a so called major party and our appearance in the special election primary gives the party and Creswell (or other candidates) media coverage twice this year instead of just once for the general election. Nearly all the other provisions in state election law regarding parties “qualified to nominate candidates by primary method” deal with aspects of internal party structure and convention timing. None of these provisions can kick in until the election of precinct delegates at the August 2018 primary and have no direct bearing on our 2017 activities.

Table 1) Top of ticket candidates from third parties who achieved “major party status”

Year Party Candidate Office Votes Needed* Votes Received Primary Qualified
2016 Working Class Mary Anne Hering State Board of Ed. 154,040 224,392 2018
2016 Libertarian Gary Johnson President 154,040 172,136 2018
1996 Reform Ross Perot President 152,588 336,670 1998
1990 Tisch Ind. Citizens Robert Tisch State Board of Ed. 124,614 178,342 1992
1986 Tisch Ind. Citizens Robert Tisch State Board of Ed. 116,203 136,891 1988
1980 Anderson Coalition John Anderson President 139,831 275,223 1982
1968 American Ind. George Wallace President 118,721 331,968 1970
*5% of all votes cast for Secretary of State in the previous election MCL 168.532

To give some insight into how the Libertarian and Working Class Parties might fare with running candidates in a primary election, I investigated how other third parties have done in Michigan when they qualified to nominate candidates by primary. This has happened five other times before this past election (Table 1). Three times, a third party qualified by running a strong presidential candidate which is how the Libertarian Party qualified in 2016. Two other times, a third party qualified by running a strong candidate for State Board of Education and did not run a candidate for any higher office which is how the Working Class Party qualified.

I tracked down the results of these five primary elections (Table 2) to answer a couple of questions.

1) How did running candidates in a primary effect the third party vote totals in the general election?

2) How did running candidates in a primary effect the number of candidates nominated by the party?

The short answer is…it doesn’t.  Compared to other years that they had ballot status, the third parties who qualified to nominate candidates by primary instead of by caucus or convention did not see any difference in their vote totals or number of candidates nominated.

Here is the long answer…

Reform Party, 1998

The Reform Party had ballot status in Michigan from 1996 through 2002. Due to the strong showing by Presidential candidate Ross Perot in 1996, they qualified for the 1998 August primary.  Only 3 Reform Party candidates appeared in that primary; 1 for Congress and 2 for State House.  Four additional statewide candidates were nominated at their 1998 convention. Compared to the 2000 and 2002 elections, in which they nominated candidates by caucus or convention, their 1998 congressional candidate fared better and their State House candidates fared slightly worse. The party also nominated more candidates in 2000 and 2002 than in 1998 (Figure 1).

Figure 1) Reform Party Results 1996-2002


Tisch Independent Citizen Party, 1988 and 1992

The Tisch Party had ballot status in Michigan from 1982 through 1992 when it was absorbed into the US Taxpayers Party.  Due to the strong showing by Robert Tisch who ran for State Board of Education in 1986 and 1990, they qualified for the 1988 and 1992 August primary ballot. Whether or not they nominated candidates by primary or caucus/convention did not reflect in their results or number of candidates nominated.  Their congressional candidates nominated at the 1992 primary fared worse than those nominated the previous year, 1990, at convention but better than those nominated at their 1984 convention. Their State House candidates nominated by primary in 1988 and 1992 did worse than those nominated by convention in 1982, 1986, and 1990 and similar or less than in 1984 (Figure 2).

Figure 2) Tisch Independent Citizen Party Results 1982-1992


The only contested primary for any third party was in 1992 when two candidates competed for the Tisch Party nomination for US Congress Distruct 16 to run against John Dingell. Max Siegle won the nomination with 266 votes (55.3%) over Robert Bush Jr. with 215 votes (44.7%).

Anderson Coalition, 1982

The Anderson Coalition had ballot status in Michigan in 1980 and 1982. Michigan did not have a mechanism for independent candidates to appear on the ballot until 1987 so in order for John Anderson to run for President in Michigan in 1980, he had to form a political party.  Due to his strong showing, they qualified for the 1982 August primary.  Apart from Anderson, the only other candidate to run under the party label was a single candidate for State Senate in 1982.

American Independent Party, 1970

The American Independent Party had ballot status in Michigan from 1968 through 1982.  Due to the strong showing by George Wallace in 1968, they qualified for the 1970 August primary. Again, whether or not they nominated candidates by primary or by caucus/convention did not reflect in their vote return or number of candidates nominated. Their congressional candidates nominated by primary in 1970 did better than those nominated at convention in three of the next six elections and worse in the other three.  The same pattern is found for their candidates for State House and with the number of candidates nominated. The AIP ran a single candidate for State House in 1968, their only other candidate besides Wallace and his Vice Presidential candidate, who received 8% of the vote (Figure 3).

Figure 3) American Independent Party Results 1968-1982


The AIP ran a candidate for Governor in 1970, the only time a third party candidate competed in a statewide primary. James McCormick received 100 votes (82.6%) against 21 write-in votes (17.4%).

No other third party candidate has qualified for a statewide primary race. In the 1982 Anderson Coalition primary, 29 write-in votes were cast for Governor and 16 write-in votes for US Senate and in the 1988 Tisch primary, 16 write-in votes were cast for US Senate.

Table 2) Third party primary election results and corresponding general election results.

Primary General
Office Dist. Candidate Votes %   Votes %  
1970 American Independent
Governor James  McCormick 100 82.6   18,006 0.68  
Governor scattering 21 17.4    
Congress 7 Eugene Mattison 107   2,194 1.56  
Congress 9 Patrick Dillinger 80   811 0.56  
Congress 12 Milton Deschaine 135   1,562 0.92  
Congress 19 Hector McGregor 56   990 0.64  
State Senate 12 Peter Bill 35   680 0.90  
State Senate 22 Shelton Carr 53   469 0.78  
State Senate 24 Leo Miller 37   599 0.81  
State Senate 29 Dan Griffin 56   2,044 3.73  
State Senate 32 Harold Tilma 30   541 0.88  
State House 45 Paul Tubbs 41   436 2.90 no Dem.
State House 48 Clair Bishop 32   221 1.12  
State House 57 Max Calder 14   144 0.67  
State House 73 Carolyn Skelton 33   151 0.71  
State House 75 Billy Roland 17   156 0.69  
State House 87 Dale Calder 9   300 1.11  
State House 95 James  Bruins 18   232 0.74  
State House 97 Myron O’Brien 32   201 0.79  
total 906    
1982 Anderson Coalition    
State Senate 3 Gerry Brooks 13   1,376 2.02 no Rep.
Governor scattering 29    
US Senate scattering 16    
all others legislative seats scattering 19    
total 77    
1988 Tisch Ind. Citizens    
State House 70 Greg Everett 8   144 0.46  
State House 74 David Ledwon 5   417 1.21  
State House 88 Donald Miller 12   200 0.58  
US Senate Write-in 16    
all other legislative seats Write-in 6    
total 47    
1992 Tisch Ind. Citizens    
Congress 4 Joan Dennison 170   3,344 1.32  
Congress 13 Paul Jensen 173   3,314 1.35  
Congress 16 Max Siegle 266 55.3   4,048 1.68  
Congress 16 Robert Bush Jr. 215 44.7    
all other Congress Write-in 38    
State House 2 Robert Gale 20   374 1.72  
State House 41 Matthew Uhelski 28   937 2.33  
State House 53 Pat Burkard 12   412 1.13  
State House 69 Raymond Myers 15   615 1.93  
all other State House Write-in 30    
County Com., Washtenaw 4 Raymond Pierce 71   121 1.31  
County Com., Washtenaw 11 Leif Larsen 2   163 3.46 no Rep.
total 1040    
1998 Reform    
Congress 8 John Mangopoulos 52   4,654 2.13  
State House 30 Robert Murphy 4   391 1.41  
State House 53 Paul Jensen 8   494 1.93  
total 64    

So why did I earlier suspect there would be no Libertarian primary for special elections in 2017?  Of the five years / election cycles in which a minor party was in between so called major and minor party status, there were special elections held in three of these years (Table 3). No election results from these years list any write-in votes for the third party, even when write-in votes for the Republican and Democratic Party are listed (Figure 4). The lack of any reported write-in votes, led me to the conclusion that these third parties did not compete in these special elections and that nominating candidates by direct primary does not take effect until the following election season. The Bureau of Elections interpretation of Michigan Election law this year is not consistent with past rulings.  Again though, from a practical standpoint, it doesn’t really matter.

Table 3) Special Elections held in years in which a minor party was transitioning to a major party.

1969-1970, American Independent, no special elections

1981-1982, Anderson Coalition, seven special elections

Congress 4 (primary 3/24/81, write-in vote reported for Dem and Rep, AC not listed)

State House 42 (primary 6/30/81, no write-in vote reported)

State Senate 16 (primary 3/2/82, write-in vote reported for Rep but not for Dem, AC not listed)

State House 21 (primary 3/2/82, no write-in vote reported)

State House 29 (primary 3/23/82, no write-in vote reported)

State House 3 (primary 5/18/82, no write-in vote reported)

State House 69 (primary 5/18/82, no write-in vote reported)

1987-1988, Tisch, one special election

State Senate 2 (primary 2/23/88, no write-in vote reported)

1991-1992, Tisch, no special elections

1997-1998, Reform, three special elections

State House 22 (primary 5/20/97, write-in reported for Dem and Rep, Reform not listed)

State Senate 12 (primary 11/4/97, write-in reported for Dem and Rep, Reform not listed)

 State House 32 (primary 2/3/98, write-in reported for Dem and Rep, Reform not listed)

2017-2018, Libertarian, Working Class

State House 1 (primary 8/8/17, Libertarian candidate listed)

Figure 4) Results of 1981 special primary election for US Congress do not list the Anderson Coalition

1981 special election






All election results are taken from the Michigan Manual, Official Canvass of Votes

12 thoughts on “Greg Creswell and the adventures of third party primaries

  1. Congratulations to the LPM — and watch out; anybody can file as a Libertarian now, with enough signatures or for many offices with $100.

    The Working Class Party’s only statewide candidate also had enough votes to cross the threshold — but the Bureau of Elections has changed its past interpretations of state law, and now says it DOES matter that the WCP ran some Congressional candidates (NOT statewide) who appeared higher up on the ballot. You’d pretty much have to WIN a Congressional seat to qualify for the primary if that’s your “top of the ticket” office.


    1. Do you have a source for the Bureau of Elections interpretation of the “top of ticket” rules in regards to the Working Class Party? I haven’t seen anything one way or the other regarding this.


      1. On March 6, when I saw the announcement of the special election, I wrote the Bureau:

        /======= start message to Bureau of Elections =======\
        In last fall’s election, the new Working Class Party had only one statewide candidate — Mary Anne Hering, running for State Board of Education. She got 224,392 votes according to the official results at

        This is easily more than the current statutory threshold for becoming eligible to participate in primary elections — 154,040 votes:

        The Working Class Party did have two candidates for Congress . . . but the Bureau has always told us that only statewide candidates affected a party’s status. So the Working Class Party should have been listed along with the Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians as a primary-eligible party in Governor Snyder’s recent letter calling on Secretary Johnson to call a special election to fill the vacated 1st District State House seat:

        I look forward to hearing that the Bureau and the Department of State have corrected this error by the Governor’s Office, and so notified all political parties.
        \======= end message to Bureau of Elections =======/

        The next day I got this response:

        /======= end of Bureau of Elections response =======\
        The statutory standard applies to the candidate “nearest the top of the party column.” MCL 168.532. The office of U.S. Representative in Congress appears before the State Board of Education. MCL 168.697. The WCP candidate who appeared nearest the top was the congressional candidate.

        —–Original Message—–
        From: SOS, Elections
        Sent: Tuesday, March 07, 2017 11:57 AM
        To: Malerman, Melissa (MDOS)
        Cc: Pierce, Carol (MDOS)
        Subject: FW: Working Class Party Status
        \======= end of Bureau of Elections response =======/

        Within an hour, I sent back this:

        /======= start of reply to Bureau’s response =======\
        Dear Ms. Malerman,

        Thank you for this statement — though it is a change from what we have been told in the past, namely that only statewide candidates can affect a party’s ballot status. Do you have any caselaw or other persuasive precedent supporting the statement?

        In a close US House race with three (or more) serious candidates, it is possible that someone could win and still not crack the 5% threshold under this interpretation. No state legislative race draws enough votes for even an unopposed candidate to have any chance of reaching that threshold. So basically, what this statement is saying is that a party cannot possibly qualify for state primary elections unless it runs in one of the top statewide races: President/Vice President, Governor/Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, or US Senator.

        In that case, the 2002 amendment to the definition of “principal candidate” in MCL 168.685 (in 2002 PA 399) would be all the more important. Without that amendment (as before it), a party trying to become eligible to participate in state primaries would risk losing its ballot status altogether if the top-of-ticket candidate fell short not only of the 5% primary threshold in MCL 168.532 but also MCL 168.685’s 1% staying-on-the-ballot threshold.

        Again, my thanks for this initial response — and I look forward to hearing further.
        \======= end of reply to Bureau’s response =======/

        To which no further response has been forthcoming.


      2. Thanks for the link to the Governor’s call for the special election. I had not seen this before. You are 100% correct about this being a break from the past. In 1990, the Tisch Independent Citizens Party ran two Congressional candidates, yet they had a primary in 1992 based on one of their State Board of Education candidates. Since the WCP also ran two congressional candidates that means there were three different “principle candidates” depending on where a voter lived, based on their new interpretation. Since political party ballot status is uniform across the state, it doesn’t make any sense for it to be based on the results of a single Congressional district. If so, which Congressional district and what would happen if one candidate got over 154,040 votes and another one under that number? The Bureau of Elections has now made two interpretations of Michigan election law that break from precedent. It’s not surprising that members of minor parties understand ballot access laws better than Democrat and Republican elected officials.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It might be interesting if an alternative party running in all of the races statewide for US House (or one branch or the other of the Legislature, or some other position that everybody gets to vote for in their own area) has enough votes in total at that level to top the threshold. . . .


  3. I just found evidence that the Tisch Independent Citizens Party had at least two US House candidates in 1990 that apparently weren’t held to have supplanted Tisch himself as the top-of-ticket candidate for ballot status.

    I don’t see any US House candidates for this precursor of today’s USTPM in that site’s 1986 page — and they don’t show any state legislative races either year. (Well, they are the “DC Political Report”.)


  4. You’re welcome — and thank YOU for starting this off. Where did you get the data for your Figure 2 charts? They show there were Tisch candidates for State House in both 1986 and 1990, and some more candidates for other state/federal offices in both years as well.


  5. I got those earlier state and federal results from old copies of the the Michigan Manual, Official Canvass of Votes, at the State Library in Lansing. Those go back to the 1860s and I’ve been gradually going back in time, taking pictures of the results and entering them into a spreadsheet. So far, I’ve gone back to 1952, the last election before the current iteration of Michigan election law was written. I also got some of the local Tisch results from the Washtenaw County Clerk. I poured through their incomplete records a few years ago to track down some results of the successful Human Rights Party candidates in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti in the 1970s and the IRV election in Ann Arbor in 1974. A lot of those are missing so my next step would be to look through old newspapers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, in case you don’t have it yet, here’s a link to the court opinion in the Ann Arbor IRV case:

      FairVote also has this more narrative page:

      Of course, cities in Michigan have the option of using IRV in their elections, by putting it in their charters. It’s spelled out in paragraph (a) of MCL 117.3, section 3 of the Home Rule City Act:

      Villages used to be similarly explicitly allowed to do the same under MCL 78.23(a), but that explicit permitting language was removed by HB4826 of 2003 (later PA 304 of 2004).


      1. Thanks for these links! I live in Ferndale and we’ve had our own legal issues with getting IRV implemented. I’m hoping if all goes well in Maine in 2018 that IRV will be adopted in other states.


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