We wouldn't want to have too many choices, would we?

Steve Gillespie

If you were planning to make an independent run for president in 2024, your chances of getting on the Arkansas ballot were made more difficult during the recent legislative session.

Act 273, which was signed into law March 8, increases the petition for independent presidential candidates, and for presidential status for unqualified parties, from 1,000 signatures to 5,000 signatures.

The new law doesn’t address the period of time an independent candidate would have to get 5,000 signatures of registered voters, so it appears the same rule applies as before with the Secretary of State’s office, which means the petition can’t start until 90 days before the deadline.

Why was this so important? It passed with overwhelming support, 93 votes in the House, and 29 votes in the Senate. Maybe it’s because we had 13 candidates for president on our ballot in Arkansas last year, and our state representatives and senators think that’s just too many choices for us. That’s as many presidential candidates as we’ve ever had on the ballot in Arkansas, but it only ties the record. There were 13 candidates for president on Arkansas ballots both in 1992 and 1996.

There were 1,219,069 votes cast in the presidential election in Arkansas last year. Republican President Donald Trump received 760,647 votes. Democratic nominee Joe Biden received 423,932 votes. So 34,490 votes went to the other 11 candidates.

Arkansas voting history

It’s rare to get more than 5 percent of the vote in a presidential election in Arkansas if you’re not a member of one of the two major political parties.

In 1860 Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, wasn’t on the ballot in Arkansas. The state went with the Southern Democratic Party candidate John C. Breckenridge with 53 percent of the vote, followed by John Bell, the Constitutional Union Party candidate with 37 percent. The Democratic candidate, Stephen A. Douglas, received nearly 10 percent of the vote.

In 1888 Labor Party candidate Alson Streeter won 6.7 percent of the vote in Arkansas, but that probably had something to do with his running mate, Charles E. Cunningham, who was an Arkansan. That year President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, won the state but lost the presidency to Republican Benjamin Harrison.

In 1892 the People’s Party candidate James Weaver won nearly 8 percent of the vote in Arkansas. That year Cleveland won the state and regained the White House.

In 1912 former President Teddy Roosevelt received 17.30 percent of the vote for president in Arkansas running as a Progressive Party candidate against the Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who would win Arkansas and the presidency, and incumbent Republican President William H. Taft. Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs even got 6.5 percent of the vote in Arkansas. He and Roosevelt together won more votes than Taft in the state. Debs once said: “In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.” Socialist or not, he sure got that right!

Robert M. La Follette received 9.5 percent of the presidential vote in Arkansas in 1924. He was the Independent Progressive Party nominee. That year Democrat John W. Davis won Arkansas in the election but lost to Republican President Calvin Coolidge.

In 1948 segregationist Strom Thurmond, presidential candidate for the Dixiecrat Party, received 16.52 percent of the vote in Arkansas. President Harry Truman, the Democrat, was elected to a full term. He won Arkansas with 61 percent of the vote. The Republican challenger Thomas Dewey received 21 percent.

In 1960 Arkansans gave 28,952 votes, nearly 7 percent, to its governor and National States Rights Party nominee, and segregationist Orval Faubus, in the presidential election – and he didn’t even campaign! The Democratic nominee, John F. Kennedy defeated the Republican nominee Richard Nixon in the state with 50.19 percent of the vote and was also elected president.

In 1968 segregationist George Wallace won Arkansas as the American Independent candidate with 240,982 votes (38.87 percent). Republican candidate Nixon, who won the national election, and Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey each received 30 percent in the state.

Ross Perot received just over 10 percent of the vote in Arkansas in 1992 when Democrat Bill Clinton defeated Republican President George H.W. Bush. In 1996, Perot’s support in Arkansas dropped to 7.9 percent in the presidential election when Clinton beat Republican challenger Bob Dole for re-election.

A national trend?

Last year Ballot Access News reported that independents slightly outnumbered Republicans in the 31 states that require voters to register by political party, and that’s the first time that’s happened since party registrations started in the early 1900s.

For those states there were 29.09 percent independents, 28.87 percent Republicans, and 39.66 percent Democrats. Both Democratic and Republican registrations have fallen.

The most recent Gallup party affiliation poll covering all 50 states, from March of this year, shows 41 percent of those polled consider themselves independent, while 32 percent identify as Democrats and 25 percent say they are Republicans.

Whatever the reason for making the process of getting on the ballot more difficult, those belonging to the two major political parties picked the right time to do it, because I don’t think it’s just independent candidates they’re worried about – it’s independent voters! This may just be the first step in limiting their choices.

Steve Gillespie is an editor with Paxton Media Group. Email him at news@newportindependent.com.

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