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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

A third way? How Libertarians might scramble the Florida race

The Libertarian Party is holding its national political convention in Orlando over Memorial Day weekend to nominate candidates for president and vice president. The top contenders appear to be former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson for president and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld for vice-president, both of whom are former Republicans. The convention's theme, with its own hashtag, is Legalize Freedom.

Despite polls showing record unfavorables for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton -- numbers likely to grow -- the idea of a third-party candidate has fizzled partly because of restrictive ballot access laws in many states.

Here's how the law works in Florida: To get on the November ballot, a minor party candidate must notify county supervisors of elections by July 15 that it plans to collect valid signatures from 1 percent of Florida's registered voters from the last general election, or about 120,000 signatures.

But minor-party candidates for president have a dreadful record in Florida. Johnson got one-half of one percent of the vote in 2012, Reform Party candidate Ralph Nader got 0.4 percent in 2004 and 1.6 percent as the Green Party candidate in 2000, a year in which Reform Party's Pat Buchanan for 0.3 percent.

Because the razor-close 2000 Bush-Gore presidential race was decided in Florida in favor of George W. Bush by 537 votes, numerous studies concluded that Nader was a spoiler candidate who was instrumental in Al Gore's defeat. For that reason, Democrats in Florida tried without success to prevent Nader from appearing on the ballot in 2004, when he proved to be a non-factor.

The most successful Libertarian statewide candidate in Florida? That would be Adrian Wyllie, who got 3.8 percent of the vote for governor two years ago.

Read the Florida law for minor-party presidential candidates here. The full schedule for the Libertarian Party convention is here.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2016 10:35am]


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