I’m a big proponent of third parties, so why do I like a bill making it harder for third party candidates to run for president in Arkansas?

Because we need a few more credible third party candidates, not many candidates few voters have heard of.

House Bill 1338 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, would increase the number of signatures required for presidential candidates to qualify for the ballot from 1,000 to 5,000. It passed the House 93-0 and is now in the Senate.

Lundstrum filed the bill after Arkansans’ presidential ballots last year had 13 names, which were listed by the luck of the draw. Those included President Biden, former President Trump and 11 more candidates unfamiliar to most voters. I guess many had heard of the rapper Kanye West, for whom 4,099 Arkansans voted.

Those 11 candidates between them won less than 3 percent of the vote. The top vote-getter, Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, won slightly more than 1 percent.

In Arkansas, it’s easier to run for president than it is to run for many other offices. As Lundstrum told me, a candidate must collect 10,000 signatures and pay an $11,350 filing fee to run for Arkansas Supreme Court chief justice. Presidential candidates pay no state filing fee, although they do pay party filing fees if they run as a Republican or Democrat.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has tried to make it harder for third parties to automatically qualify and run a slate of candidates for lower offices. In previous years, third parties had to reach 3 percent of the vote in the most recent presidential or gubernatorial race, or else collect 10,000 signatures, in order to run that slate.

After the Libertarian candidate for governor almost hit 3 percent in 2018, lawmakers increased the signature requirement to 3 percent of the last gubernatorial race. That would have equaled 26,746 signatures in 2020. The Libertarians sued and got on the ballot with fewer signatures under an injunction, and now the case is tied up in court.

The American political system desperately needs fresh competition. Third parties can remind Republicans and Democrats that they exist to serve the people, not to play partisan games against each other. Third party candidates can highlight important issues, as Ross Perot did in 1992 when he broadcast effective 30-minute informercials about the national debt.

But a threshold of only 1,000 signatures enables almost anyone to get on the ballot, and then it just becomes a mass of people. Lundstrum said the number hasn’t been raised in many decades even though the state’s population has grown. She said she tried to set a threshold that would make it more difficult but not impossible for candidates to qualify. The presidential ballot is not a place for candidates “to be cavalier or funny,” she said.

We need more than two but less than 13 candidates for president representing different parties. The Libertarians, who seek to drastically reduce the role of government in all areas of life, have had some success in building a movement. On the other end of the spectrum, perhaps a redistributionist Socialist or Green Party would give super-liberal candidates a third-party home and let Democrats move back toward the center. And most importantly, we need a new, problem-solving centrist party.

To make this all work, we need an important political reform: ranked choice voting, which would let voters rank their choices on the ballot. If no candidate wins a majority, then second-place choices come into play.

This reform is a must if we have more than two competitive parties. Bad things happen in multi-candidate races when the winner has the support of 30 percent of the voters while the other 70 percent are completely opposed.

A well-funded effort was made to enact this reform in the last election, though not for presidential candidates, but the Arkansas Supreme Court kicked it off the ballot because of a technicality. State Republicans, the party currently in power, fought hard against ranked choice voting, as parties in power often do against reforms that would change the game they’re winning.

I hope in 2024 we have more than two credible presidential candidates, but we don’t need a long list of people who might have picked Arkansas because it’s easy here.

One of the ways to help rightsize that number is to require a reasonable number of signatures. If someone wants to be the leader of the free world and the commander-in-chief who sends troops into harm’s way, 5,000 is not too much to ask.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.