State Senate rejects bill making it easier for 3rd parties to get on ballot

Andrew Longstreth

INDIANAPOLIS (Statehouse File) — State senators voted against helping minor political parties Thursday.

Senate Bill 571, authored by Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, would have removed distinctions between major and minor political parties for getting their candidates on the ballot. But Republican and Democratic senators balked at that, defeating Walker’s bill 16-31.

“What this bill really does is one simple thing: it makes the rules fair and equal between a minor party and a major party,” said Walker. “It’s all this bill really does.”

Currently, state law says a political party's candidate for secretary of state has to get at least 2 percent of the vote to get future candidates on the general election ballot. If they don't, all candidates from that party have to collect the signatures of 2 percent of voters in whatever district they are seeking office, whether it's state legislature, a county office or city council.

For Democrats and Republicans, that's not a problem because they've always gotten at least 10 percent of the votes cast for secretary of state. The only other hurdle they have to pass is collecting at least 500 signatures in each of Indiana's nine congressional districts in order to get on the primary ballot for president, governor and U.S. Senate.

Smaller parties, though, like the Green and Libertarian parties, have to do the extra legwork.

"It’s almost 10 times more difficult for a minor party" than for Republicans and Democrats, Walker said.

He sought to slash that by requiring just 0.5 percent of the votes cast for secretary of state, instead of the current 2 percent.

That change wouldn't have immediately added any political party to the ballot. In November, the Libertarian Party got 3.2 percent of the vote for secretary of state, meeting the current threshold. The only other candidates to get votes were write-in candidates who finished with less than the proposed 0.5 percent.

Moving forward, collecting signatures will be harder for minor parties. November's election saw a surge in voting, which means 2 percent equals a whopping 44,935 signatures to secure a spot on general election ballots for the next three years. Had Walker's bill passed, that number would have dropped to 11,234.

Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, argued that opening up the ballot to more minor parties would make the ballot more confusing and more crowded, she said.

“I think in order for you to be on the ballot, you have to show you’re a viable candidate,” Breaux said. “And that you have to show you’re a credible candidate, and that you have some support, and that you have potential to truly be competitive in an election.”

After the vote, Walker shrugged off the defeat.

“I think everyone has their vote on the floor. It’s up to each of us to determine the merits of each bill, so I’m fine with it,” Walker said.

The Senate voted by voice vote to remove a provision from another election bill, SB 560, that would have allowed presidential candidates to buy their way onto Indiana's primary election ballot by paying $20,000.

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