By Greg Stempfle, LPM Political Director
It was a mixed bag for Libertarians on Election Day 2018 in Michigan. While several candidates, from Governor to Township Supervisor, broke Libertarian Party of Michigan (LPM) records, the election results of most down ballot races for State Legislature and Congress were lower than those from the previous three elections. The LPM also did not maintain its status as a party qualified to run candidates in the primary and will return to a “minor” party for the 2020 campaign cycle.
Note: All results are unofficial so I will have to rewrite and expand on this article once the results are certified.
Libertarian candidate for Governor Bill Gelineau came in third place (out of six) with 1.34% (56,756 votes). This is a new Libertarian record breaking that of Mary Buzuma in 2014 with 1.13% (35,723 votes). The modern record for a third party gubernatorial candidate is Independent Citizens Party candidate Robert Tisch with 2.64% (80,288 votes) in 1982. Prior to that, the Socialist Party candidates pulled 2% through 1920.
As the LPM “top of ticket” candidate, the results of this race determines if the party nominates candidates in the primary election under so-called “major party” status or at conventions and caucuses as a minor party. Gelineau came up short of the necessary 207,683 votes needed to maintain our primary party status which is calculated as 5% of all votes cast for all candidates for Secretary of State (MCL 168.532). This number would have equaled 4.91% of the race for Governor. All third parties combined earned just 2.84%.
This threshold of 207,683 votes, the highest ever, will also be used in the 2020 election to determine which parties qualify for the 2022 primary and will be based on how many votes our Presidential candidate receives. In the previous election cycle the threshold was 154,040 votes. Gary Johnson received 172,136 votes (3.59%) in 2016 and qualified the LPM for the 2018 primary. In 2020 our presidential candidate will need to receive about 4.3% of the vote to qualify the LPM for 2022 primary.
Note: There is a different criterion to maintain overall ballot status as a political party. All political parties maintained their ballot status after this election as is explained later in this article.
Libertarian candidate for Attorney General, Lisa Lane Gioia, came in third place (out of five) with 2.10% (86,521 votes). This is a new Libertarian record breaking that of Daniel Grow in 2010 with 2.00% (62,737). Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State, Greg Stempfle, came in third place (out of four) with 1.96% (81,565 votes). This is a new record for most votes for a Libertarian but not highest percentage. That record is still held by Jamie Lewis in 2014 with 1.98% (61,112 votes).
Both Gioia’s and Lewis’ returns were the highest for a third party candidate since at least the current 1963 Michigan Constitution. I don’t yet have complete election results prior to that year!
The results of the Secretary of State race determine the order of political parties on the 2020 and 2022 ballot (MCL 168.703). That order will be Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, US Taxpayers, and after that I don’t know. Three political parties did not run a candidate for Secretary of State and Michigan election law does not address that point specifically.
Eight Libertarians ran for the four public education boards and averaged 1.37% (95,229 votes). The best showing was Bruce Campbell with 1.83% (128,269 votes) for Michigan State Trustee. Campbell received the most votes of any partisan Libertarian candidate in this election. Voters select two candidates in these races so the vote percentage is about half that of other races. The Libertarian nominee for Justice of the Supreme Court, Kerry Morgan, came in fifth place with 358,605 votes (5.76%). This was the highest vote total any candidate nominated by the LPM received in this election, but this office was listed as non-partisan.
The two Libertarian candidates for Congress averaged 1.75% (6,048 votes). Both ran in districts which flipped from Republican to Democratic. In District 8, where Democrat Elissa Slotkin beat incumbent Republican Mike Bishop, Libertarian Brian Ellison came in third place (out of four) with 1.84% (6,302 votes). In District 11, which was won by Democrat Haley Stevens, Libertarian Leonard Schwartz came in third (of four) with 1.65% (5,793 votes). Both winning candidates received over 50% of the vote.
This was the fewest number of Congressional races ever contested by the LPM in a year where it had ballot status. Due to candidates needing to collect 1,000 signatures, many of our members chose to run for races that only required a filing fee. The 1.75% average this year was down from a record of 3.05% (when running 13 candidates) from 2016 and over 2% in 2014 and 2012. However, this was still better than any other year in party history apart from 1994, when Jon Coon ran an aggressive campaign for US Senate and received over 4% of the vote.
The fifteen Libertarian candidates for State Senate averaged 2.59% (2,902 votes) and the fifteen candidates for State House averaged 2.62% (994 votes). The best result for State Senate was Lorence Wenke in District 20 with 4.63% (5,273 votes) and the best result for State House was Anthony Croff in District 39 with 3.58% (1,531 votes).
The 2.59% average for State Senate was down from a record 4.74% in 2014 and in a pattern identical to that of Congress, was higher than any other year except 1994. The 2.62% average for State House is down from a record 4.96% in 2014 and lower than any election since 2006.
Five Libertarians ran for County Commissioner and four for Township office. Robert Clark, who ran for Arcadia Township supervisor came in second in a two-way race with a Republican, earning 47.2% (218 votes), the highest percentage ever for a Libertarian Party candidate in a partisan race in the history of Michigan! The previous partisan record was 36.5% by Brian Wisneski in 1996 when he was elected to a position on the Clinton Township (Lenawee) Board of Trustees. Dana Carver received 30.9% (458 votes) for Cheboygan County Commissioner, District 7, also in a two-way race with a Republican, the third highest partisan percentage ever for a Libertarian.
As expected, all seven political parties maintained their ballot status for 2020. To do this, the top vote earner for each political party must receive more votes than 1% of the votes cast for the winning candidate for Secretary of State (MCL 168.685). The winning candidate for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson received 2,194,802 votes and 1% of this total is 21,948. Therefore the highest vote getting candidate for each political party must get more votes than this and all seven easily did. Here is the top vote getter for each party.
Democratic (Gretchen Whitmer, Governor, 2,256,700)
Republican (John James, Senator, 1,927,232)
US Taxpayers* (Christine Schwartz, WSU 134,818)
Libertarian (Bruce Campbell, MSU, 128,269)
Working Class (Mary Anne Hering, State Board of Education, 125,171)
Green (Kevin Graves, Regent of the University of Michigan, 71,861)
Natural Law (Marge Sallows, Regent of the University of Michigan, 51,455)
Threshold to maintain ballot status (21,948)
I’ll admit our vote totals were lower than I expected. There were three unique situations this year that I anticipated would boost Libertarian vote totals. None lived up to the hype. The first was the lack of a straight ticket option. This was expected to help third party and independent candidates, especially in the down ballot races, but in fact the opposite happened. Our down ballot candidates did worse relative to the higher profile statewide races. The second was having a contested third party gubernatorial primary for the first time which drew unprecedented media attention to us. The third was momentum from our best presidential showing in party history. Unfortunately, this was a wave election and third parties simply got lost in the extreme partisan divide currently infecting our country.
However, our high profile statewide candidates all performed at historic levels and received more press coverage than in the past. While it’s a setback to be a minor party again, it will allow us to run a full slate of candidates in 2020. Presidential elections always bring out more voters, activists, and candidates and after a two year stint as a so called major party, the LPM has its best organization structure in place ready to move into the next campaign season.
* The US Taxpayers Party is the Michigan affiliate of the Constitution Party.