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

Frequently Asked Questions about the Libertarian Party of Michigan’s change in ballot status

20161028_182346By 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