Dr. Cornel West announced a presidential run as a People's Party candidate but later announced he was seeking the Green Party nomination.
Jake Tapper’s Got Jokes, Cornel West Needs Ballot Access
Jake Tapper’s got jokes. While talking to Dr. Cornel West about his presidential run with the People’s Party, the CNN host said, “I don’t think the People’s Party was on the ballot in all 50 states last time.” With a CNN budget and no doubt a host of producers, you’d think he might know that: 1) The People’s Party didn’t exist until after the end of the 2020 presidential election, 2) it was created by disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters, 3) it doesn’t yet have presidential ballot access in any of the 50 states, not even Florida, and 4) qualifying for ballot access in 50 states is a herculean task.
Dr. West has since announced that he will also seek the nomination of the Green Party, which has significant ballot access.
I’m a member of the Green Party and an alternate to the National Committee, but nothing I say here represents the party in any way whatsoever. I’m simply, as an individual, reviewing a few of the infrastructural issues involved in a run on both the People’s Party and Green Party tickets.
As soon as Dr. West announced that he would run as the candidate of the People’s Party, Green discussion lists lit up with the question of whether he might run as a Green as well. On June 9, Chris Hedges revealed that he had arranged a meeting between Dr. West and some Green Party members. On June 10, the California Green Party, at its annual meeting, voted to write to the party’s National Committee to ask them to initiate conversation with Dr. West about whether he might run as a Green.
Before he announced, most of those who interviewed Dr. West seem to have asked why he didn’t choose to run with the Greens and for obvious reasons.
The People’s Party has ballot access in only one state, Florida, and in Florida, it doesn’t even have access to the presidential ballot. In 1998, Florida voters passed a ballot access law that allows any party to register and qualify for local and state ballots just by filing papers. However, in 2011, the Florida state legislature passed a law making it impossible for a party to qualify for the presidential ballot unless it has 1) collected an astronomical 140,000 petition signatures, or 2) run a presidential candidate in one or more other states, and been designated as a “national committee” by the Federal Election Commission, which exists to monitor campaign fundraising and expenses.
The upshot is that Florida, the one state where the People’s Party is currently registered, will not be able to put Dr. West on the ballot next year unless it can collect 140,000 petition signatures.
Even if they were to run Dr. West as a write-in candidate, the ballots wouldn’t be counted. Votes written in for your cat or your cousin or even Dr. West will not be counted anywhere unless they’ve qualified as write-in candidates.
The laws for winning ballot access are such a patchwork across the 50 states and Washington, DC that I could write ten pages and make readers’ eyes glaze over in two, so I’m not going to do that. I’ll just share a few highlights.
Qualifying as a party that can run a presidential candidate doesn’t require more than filing papers in the State of Mississippi. Greens have ballot access there and the People’s Party most likely will soon.
Ballot access laws are most challenging in the most populous states: California, Texas, Florida, and New York. In California, a party has to register 75,000 voters, as the Green Party has, and the People’s Party has only registered about 700 so far. The alternative is to collect roughly a million signatures, 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. The cost of paying signature gatherers is roughly $3 to $5 per signature, so a party would have to raise roughly $3 to $5 million dollars, or assemble an all but unimaginable number of volunteers just to qualify by signature gathering in California.
Speaking on CNN and the Sabby Saab Show, Dr. West said that the People’s Party expects to win ballot access all over the country, but speaking as someone who has actually stood on the street asking people to register with a party or sign to put a measure on the ballot, I know how hard it is and how hard it is to get other people to do it—unless you have money to pay them. I won’t say that the People’s Party can’t do it, but whether Dr. West can inspire a vast army of signature gathering/voter registering People’s Party volunteers—or raise many millions of dollars to pay them—remains to be seen.
The Green Party already has 2024 ballot access in 17 states, including California, Texas, and Florida. It has legal action to gain ballot access underway in New York, and ballot access drives underway in other states. Its access is secure in Washington, DC, which has three electoral votes.
In 2016, when the party ran Jill Stein, it qualified in 44 states, with write-in status in three more, and in Washington, DC. In 2020 when it ran Howie Hawkins, it qualified in 30 states, with write-in access in eight more, plus Washington, DC. Dr. West has such visibility and gravitas that we might expect him to qualify on the high side, perhaps even in all 50 states as a Green.
The People’s Party has little institutional presence to date
At this point, the People’s Party lacks not only ballot access but also institutional presence. Dr. West himself has far more name recognition, and he has no doubt turned more attention their way than anything else they’ve done yet. His announcement was covered by The New York Times, Newsweek, PBS, the New Republic, The Nation, Politico, Fox News, The Hill, MSNBC, NBC, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and many others. Many of these outlets have already covered his run three or four times from different angles by different writers. He’s been interviewed by Democracy Now, USA Today, CNN, the Sabby Sab Show, and Black Agenda Report, and more interviews will no doubt keep coming. His life has to have been a media whirlwind ever since he announced.
However, anyone looking for further information about the People’s Party is likely having a hard time. As a journalist, I searched the party’s website repeatedly for press contacts during the run-up to the February Rage Against the War Machine rally that they co-sponsored and found none. I finally wrote to the only contact information available to say I was press and would like to talk to someone about the rally in Washington, DC. Crickets.
The party’s website also lacks institutional information. There are “Join,” “Volunteer,” and “Donate” buttons, but no “About” button leading to information about party structure, officers, staff, or funding and expense history. There’s nothing to tell you how your dollars might have been spent if you donated. The People’s Party has 84,000 Twitter followers, while the Green Party has 333,000, but the People’s Party has only existed for two and a half years, the Greens for over 20.
With a million Twitter followers and a long history in academia and peace and justice movements, Dr. West has considerably more presence than the People’s Party. Whether he can bring a similar presence to the party remains to be seen, but they have at least begun to build infrastructure around his campaign. On the website, clicking on “Cornel West announces run for president with the People's Party!” will lead you to a page with “Join,” “Volunteer,” and “Donate” buttons and a “Contact” button which can be used for press inquiries. There is no list of staff or advisors yet. If the campaign raises more than $5000, it will need to begin reporting to the Federal Elections Commission on funds raised and spent.
Dr. West and the Greens
Dr. West arguably has more presence than the Greens as well. He’s been active for more than five decades, whereas the Green Party has been active for just over two. As a candidate of both the People’s Party and the Green Party, he offers great movement and party-building potential.
Again, however, he needs ballot access, which the Green Party can offer. Given his outsize presence, he might make it possible for the party not only to qualify for the ballot in all 50 states but also to reach the magic number—4% of the vote—that would qualify it for substantial federal matching funds.
Securing the nomination
The People’s Party appears to have simply asked Dr. West to run as their candidate. They did not hold a nominating convention with competing candidates. Now that Dr. West is running as a Green, he will have to go through the process of submitting his candidacy to the Green Party in accordance with its procedures, and attend the nominating convention. Five other candidates have registered their candidacies with the party.
So Dr. West will be running as the People’s Party’s candidate and a Green Party primary candidate until the Greens can nominate him at their 2024 convention.
Running fusion candidates
Dr. West, the People’s Party, and the Greens will be looking at “fusion campaigns” in any states where both parties have secured ballot access.
According to Richard Winger, author of Ballot Access News, roughly half the states allow fusion campaigns, and the other half do not. “In the 1924 presidential election,” Winger said, “Robert La Follette, a very famous Senator, got 17% of the vote as a third party candidate. He was the nominee of the Progressive Party, the Farmer-Labor Party, and the Socialist Party. He came in 2nd, ahead of the Democrats, in many states. He was the last good example of a third party presidential candidate who was the nominee of several parties.”
However, some state laws allowing fusion campaigns remain untested, and given the Democrats’ hostility towards left third parties who might compete with them, they could well be tested in 2024.
According to Richard Winger, obtaining ballot access is such an ordeal that it would make most sense for the Green and People’s Parties to divide the work of getting Dr. West on the ballot all over the country, with each party accepting responsibility for various states. However, it’s not yet established that these two parties would be open to dividing their efforts in that particular way. Since Dr. West is not going to become president short a miracle, the goals will be expanding the conversation and building the parties.
Ann Garrison is a Black Agenda Report Contributing Editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann(at)anngarrison.com. Please help to support her work on Patreon.