ON Election Day four years ago, voters in Colorado had a choice not just between Barack Obama and John McCain, but among 14 other people who were running for president. In Colorado, getting on the ballot in presidential races only requires that candidates fork over $500 and provide an affidavit of intent.
Colorado's ballot access law may be too lax, but Oklahoma's law is at the other end of the spectrum, making it exceedingly difficult for third parties to put a candidate before voters. This year, just as in 2008 and 2004, Oklahomans had only two options for president, the Democrat or the Republican. Twelve years ago, Pat Buchanan managed to get on the ballot here as an independent.
There was the potential for a third candidate this year when the Americans Elect Party made its way onto the ballot. But the national party failed to recruit a candidate. Oklahoma law requires that in order to remain on the ballot, a party's candidate for governor or president must get at least 10 percent of the total votes cast in the general election. Last week, state election officials voted to no longer recognize the party.
The Americans Elect Party — or any third party — can make its way onto the ballot in Oklahoma by collecting signatures of registered voters equal to 5 percent of the last vote cast for the office at the top of the ticket. This year the presidency was at the top of the ticket. About 1.33 million Oklahomans voted, which means a third party would need to gather roughly 66,700 signatures.
A candidate wanting to run as an independent for president can do so by gathering signatures equal to 3 percent of the last presidential vote. That would be close to 40,000 signatures — a tall order.
Why? It wasn't always this way in Oklahoma. Indeed from 1924 until 1974, just 5,000 signatures were needed to gain ballot access. We're not aware of ballots being overwhelmed with candidates during that time, just as they generally aren't today in states with less-restrictive rules than Oklahoma.