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The Voter’s Speakeasy featuring unbiased reporting and insight into life at Vote Smart from our staff, interns, and volunteers.

Ballot Access Laws

2016 September 20


When you head into the voting booth this November, you’ll be presented with a very specific slate of candidates. You’ll see many Democratic and Republican party candidates for various offices, but you also may see a selection of third party candidates, or even an unaffiliated candidate or two.

How did these candidates get on the ballot? Why are they in particular on the ballot, while others who may have been running don’t appear? For that matter, how do the candidates of the two major parties get on the ballot? The answers to these questions depend on your state’s ballot access laws.

Ballot access laws, which vary by state, set the requirements of what a candidate or party must do in order to appear on the election ballot.

The rules are a little different for parties and individual candidates- in most states, a party can achieve ballot access for itself, ensuring ballot space for its entire slate of nominees. This is part of what can make a major party (or any party with access) attractive to office seekers.

Typically, for a party to receive this automatic ballot access for their candidates they must either have a certain number of people registered to their party, or have had one of their candidates receive a certain percentage of the vote in a previous election.

In Alabama, a party must receive at least 20 percent of the vote in a general election to qualify for ballot access. Only two parties- Democratic and Republican- have ...

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