SANTA FE – New Mexico’s Libertarian Party has a lot at stake in the general election with former Gov. Gary Johnson running as the party’s presidential nominee.
A strong finish by Johnson would deliver a big boost to the Libertarians under terms of state election law, potentially making it easier for the party’s candidates to secure a place on the ballot starting in 2014.
Libertarians have a chance at becoming a “major political party” in New Mexico – the same as Democrats and Republicans – if Johnson wins at least 5 percent of the total vote in November.
That’s a significant prize because it would remove hurdles that make it difficult for most third-party candidates to get on the ballot in the state.
“It certainly would improve things for the Libertarian Party,” said Richard Winger, editor and publisher of Ballot Access News, which tracks election laws nationwide. “I think you would see a lot of Libertarians run for office.”
Even if Johnson finishes strongly, there’s still one more step for Libertarians. They would be required to increase their voter registration to make it more than one-third of 1 percent of New Mexico’s total registered voters by early 2014.
There are now about 2,430 registered Libertarians in New Mexico – roughly 0.2 percent of the 1.2 million voters in the state.
If Libertarians become a major party, they would select their nominees by holding a June primary election along with Democrats and Republicans. Candidates file petitions to run in their party’s primary, and the winner is automatically on the general election ballot.
Minor political parties use a different system, which has been the subject of much criticism and an unsuccessful lawsuit by Libertarians.
To initially qualify as a political party in New Mexico, groups such as the Libertarians are required to submit petitions with a certain number of voter signatures. After a so-called minor party selects its nominees at a convention, the candidates must file separate petitions with election officials to get on the general election ballot.
“New Mexico is the only state in the country that says a ballot-qualified party that nominates by convention has to have separate nominating petitions for each nominee,” Winger said.
A federal appeals court in 2007 ruled against a Libertarian legal challenge seeking to invalidate New Mexico’s petition requirements for minor-party candidates.
A decade ago, the Libertarians lost a chance to become a major party after another legal dispute. A judge in 2000 clarified the requirements for major-party status, saying it had to be a presidential or gubernatorial candidate who gets 5 percent – not any candidate in a general election. A Libertarian Party candidate for land commissioner had met the 5 percent threshold in 1998.
No Libertarian presidential candidate has received more than 1 percent of the vote in New Mexico.
New Mexico Libertarian Party Chairman Mike Blessing said Johnson has a good chance of reaching the 5 percent threshold.
“We’re hoping for that to happen, and it’s looking like a possibility,” Blessing said in a recent interview.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal