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Grant Bosse: Libertarians need to prove their major party status

October 08. 2018 11:11PM

IT IS PRETTY easy to get on a ballot in New Hampshire, if you’re running in a major party primary.

Getting onto the general election ballot as an independent or a member of a third party is harder, requiring the gathering of signatures from registered voters in the district you seek to represent.

This is perhaps the largest advantage that comes with major party status in New Hampshire, something Libertarians gained in 2016 and are seemingly about to squander.

Former Republican Rep. Max Abramson ran for governor as a Libertarian in 2016. He got just over 4 percent of the vote, which was enough to give the Libertarian Party an automatic spot on the General Election ballot for the first time in 20 years.

But being on the ballot does not necessarily mean that a candidate is running a serious campaign. Libertarians have nominees for the top three races, Jilletta Jarvis for governor, Dan Belforti in the First Congressional District, and Justin O’Donnell in the Second, as well as four of the five Executive Council races. But there are only a handful of Libertarian candidates for other offices. None of the top Libertarian candidates has yet mounted a credible campaign.

Earned media

During the primaries, WMUR and the Union Leader set a fairly low bar for participation in the Granite State Debates. With no public polling beyond favorability ratings, there was no objective standard to determine eligibility, so everyone got in.

For the General Election, candidates must demonstrate voter support (12 percent in an independent poll), campaign organization (a campaign staff and schedule) and fundraising ($25,000 in individual contributions.) But the Libertarian Party does not think its candidates will clear even these low bars.

Being on the ballot is not enough to get you onto the debate stage. I thought moderator Adam Sexton did a fantastic job managing the crowds in the primary debates, particularly the 11-person field in the First District Democratic debate. But had there been an objective way to narrow the field beyond the hunches of debate organizers, voters would have been better served.

Please note that I had nothing to do with organizing these debates or setting the eligibility criteria. Nor were the Republican and Democratic candidates consulted. Campaign officials for the Chris Sununu and Molly Kelly campaigns tell me both would be willing to debate Jarvis if she qualified.

Let’s look at the specific criteria that Libertarians argue are too strict. $25,000 is a paltry amount for a statewide or congressional campaign. If a candidate cannot raise even a token amount in individual contributions, why should we consider that candidate more than a placeholder on the ballot?

The campaign organization threshold would be even easier to achieve. It requires a staff member beyond the candidate and active interactions with voters and media.

The toughest hurdle is polling. A candidate with 12 percent support is not a threat to win in November, but would represent a significant piece of the electorate. This could reasonably be set higher or lower. The important thing is that it is set before seeing the polling data. It sets an objective standard for all candidates.

For Libertarians to maintain their ballot status, Jarvis needs to get 4 percent in November. But it is not the job of the WMUR-Union Leader Granite State Debates to help preserve one party’s ballot access.

Should Libertarians lose major party status in November, they should blame themselves for squandering it. Should Jarvis top 4 percent, Libertarians should work harder to build themselves into a credible statewide political party.

Signing off

On a personal note, this will be my final column as editorial page editor. This has been my dream job, and I am sad to leave it.

It has been an honor to oversee the editorial pages of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News, some of the most important real estate in American journalism.

I look forward to the next adventure.

Grant Bosse is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @grantbosse.

Grant Bosse

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