How do I start my own political party?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Aug. 24 2006 6:18 PM

How To Start a Political Party

If Joe Lieberman can do it, I can do it.

Joe Lieberman will appear on the Connecticut ballot this November despite losing the Democratic primary, said state officials on Wednesday. To get on the ballot, the senator collected more than 7,500 signatures and formed a brand-new political party called "Connecticut for Lieberman." Wait, can I start a party, too?

You bet. The rules differ depending on where you live, but in general all you have to do to start a political party is gather enough signatures. In the Explainer's home state of New York, you need to get 15,000 voters spread out across the state to sign a petition to have one or more candidates added to the ballot. (According to the distribution requirements, more than 100 people have to sign in each of at least 15 congressional districts.) Once you've got your signatures, you just have to number the pages, have a witness sign the bottom of each one, and then bind the whole package "by any means which will hold the pages together in numerical order." Send the thing to the State Board of Elections, and voilà!

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

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Of course, you'll need a name for your party—something like "New York for the Explainer," for example. And you'll also need a logo or emblem. If you send in your petition without a party name and logo, the board may pick them on your behalf.

What about party committees, rules, and procedures? "New York for the Explainer" won't need any of that until after the election. In fact, the party won't even get to have an official convention until an NYforE-backed candidate notches more than 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial contest. Once that happens, the party really gets going. It earns a dedicated slot on the ballot for four years and can field candidates for future elections without having to gather individual signatures.

Could Lieberman have run in Connecticut without a party affiliation? Sure—he didn't have to list a new party name on his petition. If he'd done that, he would still be on the ballot as an independent "petitioning candidate." In theory, he's better off with a new party, since Connecticut election law puts brand-new party candidates above petitioning candidates on the ballot. But in this particular election there aren't any petitioning candidates, so Lieberman will be at the bottom of the list either way.

Like New York, Connecticut gives official status to new parties only after they get a certain number of votes in a major election. That means "Connecticut for Lieberman" can become an official "minor party" for the next senatorial election if the senator wins 1 percent of the vote. (The party would have to field candidates in all the other state races to get party status across the board.)

The rules do vary from state to state, and forming a new party happens to be especially difficult in New York and Connecticut. In most places, you don't need to get a candidate on the ballot first. Instead, you can just start circulating a petition to get your party recognized with no particular election in mind. Then, once your party has formed, you can focus your work on putting together a slate of candidates.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Alex Rabb* and Alex Navarro of the Working Families Party, Dan Tapper of the Connecticut Office of the Secretary of the State, and Richard Winger of Ballot Access News.

Correction, Aug. 25: This piece originally misspelled Alex Rabb's last name.

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