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 . 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.”
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.
The 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  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|
|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.
|1970 American Independent|
|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|
|1982 Anderson Coalition|
|State Senate||3||Gerry Brooks||13||1,376||2.02||no Rep.|
|all others legislative seats||–||scattering||19|
|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|
|all other legislative seats||–||Write-in||6|
|1992 Tisch Ind. Citizens|
|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.|
|State House||30||Robert Murphy||4||391||1.41|
|State House||53||Paul Jensen||8||494||1.93|
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
All election results are taken from the Michigan Manual, Official Canvass of Votes