Elections

Fighting to get on the presidential ballot in Texas

The Texas flag.
The Texas flag. Star-Telegram

The fight is on.

As the days tick by and Election Day nears, candidates still trying to get on the Nov. 8 presidential ballot in Texas know their time is limited.

At least one has asked the courts to weigh in; another may soon follow suit.

“In a year where the two major party candidates are not well liked, and third-party candidates are getting a lot of buzz, candidates are coming out of the far pasture to run for president,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

So far, a Florida woman has sued the state for a spot on the Texas ballot as an independent presidential candidate; a Utah man may file a lawsuit as well.

Rottinghaus notes that Texas has strict rules limiting which candidates make it on the ballot.

And it may be hard to overcome those rules.

“It is not uncommon for candidates to try to get ballot access through the legal system, but the likelihood of success is low,” Rottinghaus said. “These independent candidates make a strong democratic argument but a dicey legal one.”

Whether those looking to the courts make it on the ballot or not, Texas voters will still have plenty of choices in November.

In the presidential race, and up and down the ballot, Republicans, Democrats, Green Party, Libertarians — even write-in candidates — will give voters options.

Obviously, at the top of the ballot, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump will command the most attention, followed by the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson.

Texas officials have also approved 11 write-in candidates in the presidential race.

“Third-party candidates have a real uphill battle to get on ballots nationwide — they have to qualify in each state, and all states have their own laws,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU.

“There are literally a couple of hundred folks who declare as presidential candidates each quadrennium. They represent everything from communists and socialists to fascists and the KKK. All of them would like to leverage their way onto the ballot, but they rarely succeed.”

Ballot challenge?

It’s still up in the air whether Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent who declared his presidential candidacy this month, will make it on the ballot here.

The deadline to file to run as an independent in Texas, and turn in petitions signed by nearly 80,000 voters who didn’t vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary elections was in May. The deadline to file to run as a write-in candidate was earlier this month.

McMullin, of Salt Lake City — who has gotten his name on ballots in a handful of states including Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota and Utah — has indicated he may sue to get on the Texas ballot.

His political strategists have suggested that a legal challenge might find success in Texas, since the deadline to file as an independent this year fell before Democrats and Republicans knew who their general election candidate would be.

McMullin campaign staffers didn’t respond to requests for information about whether a court challenge in Texas is moving forward.

Texas election officials say they have not received a lawsuit from McMullin. But they did send him a letter letting him know he was not certified as a write-in candidate.

“Our office did not receive the required 38 presidential elector candidate forms from active voters,” according to the letter written by Keith Ingram, director of elections for the Texas secretary of state’s office. “Please be advised that your name will not be on the ballot.”

McMullin’s staff is still sending out emails to potential supporters saying, “It’s never too late to stand for what is right.”

Lawsuit filed

Another lawsuit to get a presidential candidate on the Texas ballot is proceeding for now.

Souraya Faas of Florida sued Texas and Secretary of State Carlos Cascos in May claiming that state restrictions “on independent presidential candidacy and ballot access violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.”

“Souraya Faas seeks the presidency of the United States and to give the voters a choice to vote for her as an independent candidate in Texas,” the lawsuit states. “Since she announced her candidacy, the presidential campaigns within the major political parties have devolved into unprecedented rancor.

“The front-runners for the major party nominations are viewed as unpopular and undesirable by a not insignificant number of party partisans and independent voters.”

Now Faas is asking the court to declare unconstitutional parts of the Texas election code that “deny equal protection for independent presidential candidates.”

“Texas’ statutory scheme imposes a greater burden on the rights of voters and independent candidates than other states,” her lawsuit states.

The case could be thrown out soon if Faas doesn’t submit documents showing why the case shouldn’t be dismissed, according to court records filed in the Southern District of Texas Houston Division.

Write-in candidates

McMullen and Faas aren’t on the Texas ballot — yet, anyway.

Several other people won’t be either, but they can still receive votes.

Texas has approved 11 write-in candidates, including the controversial Travis County Republican Chairman Robert Morrow.

After news of Morrow’s candidacy broke, officials noted that the candidacy appears to violate state election law that prevents county chairs of political parties from seeking other office — and Travis County Republicans moved forward with plans to remove him from office.

Morrow agreed he couldn’t serve as chair and run for president at the same time and celebrated his presidential candidacy on social media.

One of his tweets: “MORROW FOR PRESIDENT 2016!!! Bikini contests on the South Lawn of White House! Wet t-shirt contests 4th of July!!”

Another tweet: “Unlike neocon Evan McMullin I have an actual chance of WINNING TEXAS in November … however slight.”

Other presidential write-in candidates approved in Texas: Scott Cubbler, Cherunda Fox, Tom Hoefling, Laurance Kotlikoff, Jonathan Lee, Michael A. Maturen, Monica Moorehead, Emidio Soltysik, Dale Steffes and Tony Valdivia, according to the Texas secretary of state’s office.

Deadlines

Various election dates in Texas giving McMullin and Faas problems — such as the deadlines for independent and write-in candidates — are set in law.

Deadlines are set to make sure election officials have time to prepare, proofread and correct ballots in time to ship them out to military and overseas voters.

Thursday, the 68th day before the election, is the last day for state election officials to certify names for the ballot. Military and overseas ballots will be mailed Sept. 24.

To meet the deadlines, the last day for a candidate to be certified as a write-in candidate was earlier this month.

A certified write-in candidate will have his or her votes tallied and counted. Votes for write-in candidates who are not certified — such as Mickey or Minnie Mouse — will be disregarded.

Other key dates: Oct. 11, the last day to register to vote; Oct. 28, the last day to apply for a ballot by mail; and Oct. 24-Nov. 4, the early voting period.

Election Day is Nov. 8.

More options

Third-party candidates appear to be drawing more attention this year than in many other presidential election years.

“Johnson should benefit from the existence of a nontrivial number of Texas Republicans who cannot bring themselves to support Donald Trump and at the same time would never contemplate voting for Hillary Clinton, but also don’t want to leave their ballot blank for president,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“But these individuals will be voting for Johnson as either a protest against Trump or as support for a centrist Republican, rather than as a vote for the Libertarian Party.”

Johnson has become more high-profile in recent weeks, drawing the support of some Republicans who are turning away from Trump, including Fort Worth’s Juan Hernandez.

It became big news that a devout Republican who has advised GOP presidential candidates, including John McCain in 2008, would flip to not only support — but also work on behalf of — a Libertarian presidential candidate.

Hernandez has said that despite his long GOP ties, he can’t support Trump. He said the former reality TV star has insulted so many people, including disabled people, women, Muslims and judges, that he can’t vote for him.

“This is the time for Americans to stand up to someone who is a threat to everything we are as a nation,” Hernandez told the Star-Telegram.

So he joined Johnson’s campaign as an adviser and chairman of Hispanics.

“Having a leader of Juan’s stature join our campaign is a huge boost, and I am proud to have both his support and his assistance,” Johnson said in a statement. “The choices in this election for Hispanics could not be clearer, and as a former Governor of the nation’s most Hispanic state, I understand both the tremendous benefits immigrants bring to America — and the challenges they face.”

And while Johnson and Stein, who is also gaining traction, will both pick up extra votes, Jones predicts that neither “is going to win in Texas or any other state this year.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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