The Issue - Removing Ballot Access Barriers in Texas

The Issue

Once upon a time in Texas, any qualified citizen could run for public office. All you had to do was throw your hat in the ring, so to speak. And Texans could vote for any candidate they wanted. People just wrote their choices down on a piece of paper and dropped it in a box. All the government did was tally votes and announce the winners.

And for the first 100-plus years of American history, every other state ran elections the same way.

Now it’s not so simple.

Political parties eventually started printing their own ballots, which only listed their own candidates, and handing them out at polling stations. But they also handed out bribes and threats – whatever it took to get people to cast the party’s ballot. Voter harassment soon became rampant.

To fix the problem, states began to print official ballots, which listed every candidate running for each office. The idea was to restore and protect voters’ freedom of choice by letting them cast their ballots in the privacy of the voting booth.

Texas printed its first official ballot in 1903.

And it worked.

Just like that, Texans could vote once again for any candidate they wanted.

But what started as a way to protect voters’ freedom of choice is the very thing that denies it to Texans today. That’s because getting on the ballot in Texas is extraordinarily difficult and expensive for independents and new or small political parties. Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats appear on the ballot automatically, by means of taxpayer-funded primary elections.

That’s right: taxpayers pay for the Republicans and Democrats to appear on the ballot.

But for the average Texan, who doesn’t have the backing of one of those parties, a complicated, burdensome and outdated set of regulations makes it almost impossible to get on the ballot.

Say you’re an independent who wants to run for office in 2020.

Here’s how many valid signatures you need to submit on a nomination petition to run for Governor:

83,074

And to run for president, you’ll need even more:

89,692

But that’s not all. You also have to collect these signatures by hand, using pen and paper, in a very short time – just 69 days for independent presidential candidates in 2020.

And that’s just the beginning.

Lots of other restrictions and requirements can trip you up along the way. For example, anyone who voted in a primary can’t sign your petitions. So, to make sure you have enough valid signatures, you have to collect 50 percent more than the requirement – meaning around 120,000 signatures to run for Governor, and 135,000 to run for President. And the only way to do that in such a short time is to hire paid petition circulators.

At the going rate of $7.50 per signature, just getting on the ballot will cost you around $900,000 to run for Governor, and $1,012,500 to run for President.

Is that reasonable, when Republicans and Democrats do it for free, on the taxpayers’ dime?

We don’t think so.

Qualified candidates shouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg just to get on the ballot in Texas. And Texans should be free to vote for any candidate they want. Just like they used to do.

That’s why we’re working to enact the Texas Voter Choice Act. This comprehensive ballot access reform bill provides voters with more meaningful choices on Election Day by dismantling the unnecessary barriers that prevent qualified candidates from running for office in Texas. It was first introduced in the Texas House in 2017 as HB 3068, with Rep. Reynolds sponsoring and Rep. Anchia co-sponsoring. It was reintroduced in 2019 (minus the provisions authorizing online signature gathering) as HB 4439, with Rep. Cain sponsoring. Neither bill was enacted. Instead, in 2019, Texas enacted HB 2504, which imposes an additional filing fee or nomination petition requirement on individual nominees of minor parties, in addition to the nomination petition the parties must file.

We’re still fighting for legislative reform to restore and protect voter choice. We’ll be working to reintroduce the Texas Voter Choice Act in 2021, and we need your help to get it done.

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