The Libertarian Party of Arkansas submitted 15,709 signatures to the secretary of state’s office Tuesday – far more than the 10,000 needed to qualify for the ballot.
Dr. Michael Pakko, newly elected LPA chair, said the party began collecting signatures March 20 using volunteers and paid petitioners funded with a grant from the Libertarian National Committee. It had 90 days to collect the signatures and turned in its petition more than two weeks early. Pakko said it started collecting signatures early to beat the summer heat and to have more time to recruit candidates.
The party is required by law to collect 10,000 signatures because it did not receive 3% of the vote in the last governor’s election. Frank Gilbert of Tull won 1.92%.
If its presidential candidate does not receive 3% of the vote in Arkansas in 2016, the party again will have to collect signatures. In 2012, the party’s presidential nominee, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, won 1.52%.
“Overall, it cost us over $30,000 to conduct this campaign, and one question I’d like to know the answer to is how much it’s going to cost the secretary of state’s office to count them all, how much taxpayer money is going to go into this process,” Pakko said. “It’s certainly an ordeal, and this is the third time we’ve gone through this in order to become a new political party once again.”
Libertarians are difficult to place on the left-right political spectrum. They support limited government both economically and socially, including greatly reduced social spending and much lower taxes and also expanded personal freedoms, such as legalizing marijuana.
In 2014, Libertarians ran candidates in every Arkansas congressional and constitutional officer race. The party’s state treasurer candidate, Chris Hayes, won 6.36%, while its land commissioner candidate, Elvis Presley, won 6.24%.
“Last time around, we were very proud of the fact that we had nine Libertarians on every Arkansan’s ballot,” Pakko said. “We’re not going to be able to do that this time because all those constitutional offices aren’t up again, but we’d like to see as many L’s on those ballots as possible because our goal at this point is one of public education, one of letting the voters know that there is another option; there is an alternative to the old two-party system.”
Gilbert, who accompanied Pakko to the secretary of state’s office, said he would run for office in 2016, though he’s not sure which one.
As chief economist and state economic forecaster at UALR’s Institute for Economic Advancement, Pakko is perhaps Arkansas’ most visible Libertarian. Asked if he would run for office, he said, “I’m not making any decisions about that at this point. … I do have a public profile in my professional position, so I have to take that into consideration.”
More coverage from UALR Public Radio:
Libertarian Party Aims For Ballot Recognition, Greens To Forgo 2016 State Races
The Libertarian Party of Arkansas stopped by the state Capitol Tuesday to deliver 15,000-plus signatures to be recognized an official party, allowing its candidates to be placed on the 2016 ballot. State party chairman Michael Pakko said this year Libertarians began the petition process early to mitigate what third-party supporters often characterize as an unfair initial requirement for recognition.
“These are petitions requesting that we become a new political party in Arkansas, once again, for the third time,” said Pakko.
The $34,000 petition effort finished two weeks in advance of a 90 day deadline, with 5,000 signatures above the required 10,000, to help ensure a sufficient number will be verified as valid.
“It’s a huge chunk of our effort. We’re already behind the game by the time we get on the ballot. Of course it requires fundraising and volunteer hours to accomplish this task and that really does take a lot of the resources that could otherwise go toward candidates and campaigns,” said Pakko.
That’s an effort the state’s other minor party, the Green Party, won’t be able to match this year. The Green Party of Arkansas has succeeded in ballot recognition drives for 10 years but state coordinator Mark Jenkins said in 2016 it won’t be able to field any state-level candidates.
“There’s a lot of internal burnout. We’re conserving our money and our other resources to try again in two years,” said Jenkins.
However, Jenkins notes that Greens will begin a drive this Saturday to place the national party’s presidential candidate on the ballot. The signature threshold for that office is in one-tenth the 10,000 required for state party recognition.
In the previous election cycle Greens and Libertarians shared some of the signature gathering burden. The Libertarian chair said the Greens were aware of its early petition effort but opted not to participate.
“It happened to be the case a couple of years ago that we were petitioning at the same time and we shared some of the same paid petitioners,” said Pakko. “One of the main things we have in common is our desire to see ballot access in Arkansas become easier for a third party.”
The Greens’ Jenkins said the party didn’t join the Libertarians petition effort, which previously split a degree of the cost, due to low funding levels and ideological differences with Libertarians.
If either a gubernatorial or presidential candidate musters three percent of the vote the party represented automatically gains ballot access in the next election.
IPR contributors Paul Frankel and Andy Jacobs both worked on the LP-Arkansas petition drive. Andy Jacobs was unlawfully arrested by campus police at Arkansas State University for petitioning and distributing voter registration forms on a public university campus.