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CONVERSATION


Ballot Access
The View from the Street

A conversation with
Bill Redpath

Friday, November 10, 1995


A member of the Libertarian Party for over a decade, Bill Redpath serves as chair of the national party's Ballot Access Committee. Redpath coordinated the Libertarian's successful effort to put their Presidential candidate, Andre Marrou, on the ballot in all fifty states for the 1992 general election. He spoke about the logistics and difficulties of launching a national drive during a telephone interview.

Click here to jump to the Libertarian Party Home Page.


CONTENTS

First Drive
Flinching from Ballot Access
The Key to Access
Feet on the Street
Targeting States
Funding Ballot Access
Parties Collaborating
Boosting Grassroots Interest
Choosing Candidates
Why the Presidency?


THEME KEY
Bill Redpath
Libertarian Party

Ballot Access Candidates Parties Strategy Money
All Sections.

See Contents above.
Choosing Candidates Parties Collaborating

Boosting Grassroots Interest

Why the Presidency?
Targeting States

Why the Presidency?
Funding Ballot Access


First Drive: Campaign '88

In 1987, Labor Day weekend '87, I was a delegate to the Libertarian Party national convention in Seattle, the convention that nominated Ron Paul for the Presidency in 1988. In the meantime I came to know what it would take to get on the ballot here in Virginia, that it would take one half of one percent of the number of registered voters as of the beginning of 1988. We could start on 1/1/88, we had until the third Friday in August, 12 noon, to complete the drive.

I said I'll be damned if I'm going to go out to Seattle and nominate this person for the presidency and not have a chance to cast a vote for him in 1988 in Virginia. So I recognized -- I mean January and February are not great petitioning months, at least outside, due to inclement conditions here in Virginia--but I decided come the first weekend of March in 1988, first Saturday, I was going to go out and stand in front of a post office and for the first time in my life solicit signatures from strangers.

I thought this has got to be done, I'm going to go do it and I went and I stood in front of a post office for three hours. I got 57 signatures in three hours, not bad for the first time out. That was Saturday, March 5, 1988. Three days later was Super Tuesday. The only Super Tuesday as it turns out and I took the day off from work and went out with a friend and stood in front of the polling places in Reston, Virginia. Between the two of us we got 299 signatures over the course of the day and I was elated. I went home and I thought oh, my God, this is going to be great, we're going to have people out there, we're going to knock this out because the number of necessary ballot signatures back in 1988 I believe was approximately 13,000 ballot signatures statewide.
[CONTENTS][THEME KEY]

Flinching from Ballot Access

Well, that evening when I called a friend of mine, I got my first inkling of how difficult this was for some people to do. I called an intelligent friend of mine who was a graduate student at the University of Virginia, and I said how many signatures did you get? And he said well, 32. I came to realize what a difficult task this was for the average person. It was just hell for some people to go out there and ask strangers for signatures. I don't know exactly why but for a lot of people it is pure hell but we eventually, through volunteer effort, a partial paid effort, we got Ron Paul on the ballot in 1988.

I retained an interest in ballot access. I was elected to the national committee in September of 1989, found myself on the national committee and in 1990 was talking with the then ballot access chairman on the phone about the progress of ballot access drives. At that particular time, the ballot access committee was funded separately, that is that the ballot access committee chairman was not only responsible for executing the ballot drive but also to raise the money. Well, I was talking to the fellow about this at the time who was chair, what's the deal here? I mean why isn't there more progress in the ballot drive? And his response to me was yeah, Bill, if I had the money I'd really be concerned and I said in response, well the fact that you don't have the money ought to make you doubly concerned and I was witnessing this person like I've witnessed so many people in the Libertarian party, probably in other parties too, sort of flinch from ballot access. This man was flinching from it.

I asked to become the chair of the ballot access committee and was so appointed in August 1990 because I just thought that the current man who was doing it was not right for the job. I was afraid that, to be perfectly honest, it was going to get screwed up and they weren't going to make the ballot in all 50 states and DC in 1992. I thought I could lead the effort and get it done and God willing and with a tail wind behind me, we did it.
[CONTENTS][THEME KEY]

The Key to Ballot Access

After the 1990 elections, I believe the Libertarian party was on the ballot in about 13 states to the best of my recollection. So including DC, we had 38 states to go and the trick with ballot access is -- well, there's really no trick to it. It's pen on paper, it's gathering signatures and you need to get on top of it as soon as possible and you need to do as much as possible as early as possible, given the funds that are available. That is the key to success in ballot access. Do as much as possible as early as possible and try not to make it a last minute thing although inevitably some break down that way.
[CONTENTS][THEME KEY]

Feet on the Street

You look first of all to volunteers although, frankly, the effort within the Libertarian party has been disappointing during my tenure, and it seems to be getting worse, to be perfectly honest. There are several ways you can do it. There are petitioning firms. National Voter Outreach is one that we use frequently. There's something called Kimball Petition Management. There are a small handful of petition management firms that will go in and see that a petition is done. Frankly, I know a core of people within the Libertarian party who want to do petitioning. They like the lifestyle, they like the independence, they go out, they do this petitioning and they will go sometimes from state to state, sometimes they'll stay in their own states but they're for hire.

Many of them are Libertarians and they only want to petition for the Libertarian party. I have trouble sometimes getting them to carry petitions -- for instance in Virginia you can double petition. In other words, you can carry petitions for more than one candidate and we worked out an effort in 1992 with the New Alliance whereby they carried ours and we carried theirs.
[CONTENTS][THEME KEY]

Targeting States

You quickly target those states that are just going to be difficult. You know Oklahoma is going to be difficult, you know North Carolina is going to be difficult, you know Florida is going to be difficult because of the very high signature gathering numbers in there. You know West Virginia is going to be difficult due to some of the laws involved. Some of them are going to very easy -- 1000 or 1500 or 2000 signatures. For those you hope that the local party can do it on a volunteer basis. Nonetheless, we had some very low signature states -- we're talking 1000 and 2000 signature states -- where we actually had to pay to get it done because our membership unfortunately was not able to go out and get it done through volunteers.

Fortunately I've never had to deal with California because we've always gotten 2% in a statewide race. That's the requirement in California, so I've never had to deal with that state, thank God. [For current Libertarian Party presidential ballot status, click here.]
[CONTENTS][THEME KEY]

Funding Ballot Access

I underbudgeted back in 1988. I was too optimistic about keeping costs down, and I'll give you a good rule of thumb. Some places it's going to cost more but these days I usually budget it out at about a buck a signature, the cost of everything, whether you hire someone and send them in or whether you hire a petitioning firm. Sometimes it will come out to be more, to be perfectly honest but I would say the initial figure I would think about, total cost, would probably run in the ballpark of about $1 a signature. The total cost of ballot access for us in '92 is hard to estimate. Some of it was paid for by an organization called Project 51-'92 [fifty states plus the District of Columbia]. They did North Carolina, a nice thing to get done. It's a difficult state. And then some of it was done, a little bit of it was done by the Andre Marrou for President campaign. I'm going to estimate the whole cost as probably at $6-700,000. That's about half of the total campaign budget.
[CONTENTS][THEME KEY]

Parties Collaborating

I'll be real honest, if it hadn't been for the cooperation of certain people with the New Alliance Party in 1992, we wouldn't have made it on the ballot in all 50 states and DC. I mean it was that instrumental. I've had some discussions with the Natural Law Party, and I'm on good terms with some people at the Natural Law party but so far not a hell of a lot of action has come of it. I would have cooperated with them in '92, but they got in very late in the game. They got on the ballot, I think, in 29 states. They did damn well getting on the ballot in 29 states given how late they got into the game. This time it isn't that way and I imagine that there are going to be several states in which we'll be working cooperatively with the Natural Law Party in '96.
[CONTENTS][THEME KEY]

Boosting Grassroots Interest

As for our own state party here in Virginia, ballot access is going to be a very big effort next year, and there's going to be a lot of the attention of the activities in the state party will be focused on getting signatures to get our candidate on the ballot. There's no question about it. It also gives you a chance to get the word out about your organization. Some petitioners are good about that, some paid petitioners that is, and with volunteers that's frequently the case, that they're doing it not only to get signatures but also to spread the word about the party.
[CONTENTS][THEME KEY]

Choosing Candidates

Our convention will be the 4th to the 7th of July 1996 which is a change from the past because if we had kept going the way we had been going, our ticket would already be selected by now. We used to select on Labor Day weekend of the year before the presidential election because there are a number of states where you cannot petition until you know the names of the candidates; however, most states now allow substitutions. Florida and Maine I believe are substitution problems right now, problem children, and it will probably lead to a lawsuit, almost certainly lead to a lawsuit in Florida.
[CONTENTS][THEME KEY]

Why the Presidency?

Presidential campaigns are important because it means that some areas of the party, I think, have at least one campaign going every four years. We have some very active state parties but it's very difficult to equal, if you will, the effort put forth by the Republicans and the Democrats due to institutional inertia. We can never equal the Republicans and the Democrats; we're nowhere close to equalling the number of candidates they run in all the races at the state, local, Congress, what have you, levels. At least in the Presidential campaign--granted we're not on television like they are constantly--but at least we have one Presidential campaign and each of the major parties has one Presidential campaign.

It's good to have a national campaign with one person, full-time, representing the party and lots of other people helping out. I look forward to it. It means that there is one person from the party, there is somebody travelling coast to coast trying to go as many places as possible and see as many people as possible. We have next to no chance. I suppose the chance of Harry Browne [potential Libertarian candidate] winning the presidency is about the same chance as me winning the Virginia Lotto. You always hope, but truth be told, I probably have a better chance of winning the Lotto.

Getting the word out about Libertarian views is the way to build up the party. Certainly that's how Andre Marrou went about it in 1992. His goal, which he did not hit, was to boost the party paid membership to 20,000. Now I believe it's up north of 13,000. If we run a good campaign with good contributions this year, I do think it's possible, not outside the realm of possibility that we might hit 20,000 dues-paying members by the end of the Presidential campaign next year. Providing Steve Forbes [declared Republican Presidential candidate with strong Libertarian leanings] doesn't take away our vote.
[CONTENTS][THEME KEY]

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