Normally, when we think about getting on the ballot, we focus on candidates trying to win their party's nomination for a particular office. While this is certainly one of the necessary activities, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Other activities related to getting on the ballot include party conventions and citizen petitions.
A primary election allows members of a political party to choose the party's candidates for an upcoming general election. Candidates who seek to be a nominee of one of the major parties in an upcoming general election must secure that nomination in a primary election.
In the case of minor parties - parties whose gubernatorial candidate received less than 20 percent of the vote in the previous general election - candidates must be selected at a party's nominating convention. Independent and write-in candidates can get on the general election ballot by collecting signatures on a nominating petition.
In order to be listed on the primary ballot for one of the two major parties - Democratic or Republican - a candidate must either collect signatures on a nominating petition or pay a filing fee to the county or state chair of the appropriate party. The number of signatures needed and the cost of the registration fee vary according to the level of office being sought. This chapter's feature entitled Getting on the Primary Ballot lists the various requirements for major party candidates.
The general election allows all registered voters to participate in choosing the occupants of public office from among the candidates of competing parties. To win the nomination in a primary election a candidate must win a clear majority (more than 50 percent) of the votes cast. If no candidate wins a majority - as often happens when more than two candidates run for an office - a runoff election is held between the two candidates that won the most votes.
Two types of primaries are used in the United States: open and closed. Open primaries do not require voters to declare in advance the party with which they wish to be associated. So, any registered voter may vote in any party's primary - but voters can vote in only one party's primary during a single primary period. Closed primaries require advance declaration of partisan affiliation in order to vote in a specific party's primary.
Officially, Texas has closed primaries. But in practice, any registered voter may vote in the primary of any single party, as long as they have not voted in the primary of another party. Texas's primaries are closed in a less direct way: once a registered voter has in effect declared his or her party affiliation by voting for the nominees in a party's primary, that person cannot participate in the proceedings (for instance, a runoff primary or convention) of another party.
Minor parties do not hold primaries. Their candidates for the general election are chosen in county and state conventions. To become the nominee for a particular office for a minor party, one must file an application for nomination with the county or state party chair, as appropriate. The names of nominees who receive a majority of the votes cast at the appropriate county, district, or state convention will be placed on the general election ballot in November of even numbered years.
Minor parties do not all enjoy equal access to the general election ballot. Parties that received at least 5 percent of all votes cast in the previous general election are guaranteed to be listed on the ballot for the subsequent general election. In 2000, only the Libertarian Party was guaranteed a place on the statewide November ballot. For the next general election in 2002, two minor parties that won at least 5 percent of the votes cast in the previous general election - the Libertarian and Green parties - were eligible to have their candidates listed on the general election ballot. From 2004 to 208 only the Libertarian Party, among minor parties, had achieved the minimum 5 percent in the previous election to be guaranteed a place on the ballot. In 2010 the Green party again broke the 5 percent barrier and, along with the Libertarians, earned a place on the 2012 ballot.
Minor parties that are either new or that received less than 5 percent of the vote in the previous general election must collect signatures totaling 1 percent of the vote in the previous general election to get on the ballot for an upcoming general election. In 2008, the petition must contain 74,108 signatures. The number may seem daunting and it clearly takes a massive effort to collect the minimum number of signatures but in 2004 in the race for governor two prominent public figures, Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, were both able to exceed that threshold by a significant margin.
Additionally, independent (non-partisan) candidates can get on the general election ballot by collecting a certain number of signatures on a nominating petition equal to a percentage of the total number of votes cast in the previous general. The percentage required varies depending on the office sought. Independent candidates do not have to pay filing fees.
Finally, anyone wishing to be a write-in candidate must file a declaration of write-in candidacy accompanied either by a filing fee or by a nominating petition signed by a certain number of qualified voters. Both the fee and the number of signatures required depend on the office sought.