After a 35,000-mile campaign crisscrossing the country in a Dodge Caravan, Lynn Kahn of New York arrived at the steps of the state Capitol in Little Rock on Monday, ready to make Arkansas the first state to officially add her name to its ballot list of presidential candidates.
Kahn is one of four candidates not affiliated with the Democratic or Republican parties who filed petitions with the secretary of state's office by Monday's deadline to get their names on the Arkansas ballot for the Nov. 8 general election.
In addition, three political groups that have not yet announced candidates filed petitions with the requisite 1,000 voter signatures to gain access to the ballot. Secretary of State Mark Martin's office has until Aug. 11 to approve the signatures submitted by the independent candidates and groups.
Even if the independent candidates reach the threshold of valid signatures and get their names on the ballot, history shows they have little chance of amounting to much among the total votes cast by Arkansans.
The last time a presidential candidate outside the two major parties won in Arkansas was in 1968, when segregationist George Wallace carried it along with four other Southern states. Wallace was on the American Independent Party ticket and beat Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey.
Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, agreed with observations that voters in Arkansas and across the country appear to be unhappy with this year's major-party candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. However, he said he was skeptical that this sentiment would lead to a significantly higher portion of the vote going toward independents.
"There's often a dissatisfaction or disaffection with higher-party nominees that gives enchantment to the idea of independent candidates," Bass said. "But by the time the general election rolls around, it's hard for third-party candidates or independents to gain traction."
Kahn, a former civil servant and federal government worker advocating against bureaucratic waste, said Arkansas is the first state where she has collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot. Working through local volunteers whom she connected with online, Kahn gathered 1,163 signatures from voters in Little Rock over the past few weeks.
"I have not had to sleep in my car yet," Kahn said. "I've gotten really good at Googling 'best place to have lunch' in wherever I am."
After a walk into the election offices in the Capitol basement, where she submitted more than 100 pages of signatures -- marked with 10 names apiece -- Kahn posed for a photo with two thumbs up before departing to the hallway, where she let out a yelp to celebrate.
A spokesman for the secretary of state's office said the candidates who filed to have their names on the ballot are:
• Kahn, the former civil servant from New York.
• Roque "Rocky" De La Fuente, a businessman who appeared as a Democratic candidate in the March primary and who is also running for a U.S. Senate seat in Florida.
• Tom Hoefling, a conservative from Iowa.
• Jim Hedges, a prohibitionist from Pennsylvania.
Three groups -- Better for America Arkansas, the Constitution Party and the Green Party -- have filed petitions and have until Aug. 25 to name their candidates for president and vice president.
The Libertarian Party, which successfully petitioned for recognition in Arkansas last year, held a convention to select former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson as the party's nominee to appear on the ballot. Parties that have been recognized for more than one general election are required to hold primaries in Arkansas.
In the 2012 general election, almost 1 million Arkansans cast votes for president. Johnson, a Libertarian candidate that year as well, received 14,608 votes.
Each state has its own set of laws regulating ballot access for candidates without the backing of a national party. Kahn said that in California, she is running in a primary for the state's Peace and Freedom Party rather than try to get on the ballot via petition because of the number of signatures required.
"Some states, I'll be an independent, some states, I'll just give up. It's ridiculous," Kahn said.
Arkansas Code Annotated 7-8-302 says that in addition to independent candidates, nonrecognized political groups can submit 1,000 signatures from voters to ensure that their selections for president and vice president appear on the ballot. If the signatures are deemed insufficient, the secretary of state must notify the candidates or groups, who can appeal to Pulaski County Circuit Court.
In elections dating back to 1976, Ross Perot, the billionaire from Texarkana, Texas, is the only independent presidential candidate to receive more than 5 percent of the vote in the state.
Perot's populist bids as an independent in 1992 and 1996 earned 99,132 and 69,884 votes in Arkansas, respectively. The only other independent presidential candidate to crack 10,000 votes in an Arkansas general election was Ralph Nader in 2008.
However, independents have slightly increased their total percentages in the past two presidential elections, earning 2.5 percent in 2012.
"People are angry and frustrated and they don't know there is a third choice, they don't know about independent candidates," Khan said.
Khan was adamant that her goal in 2016 is to become the next president. She said she hopes to get her name on about 40 state ballots, and after leaving Little Rock she plans to travel to Rhode Island, Connecticut, Ohio and Utah to gather signatures.
"The only thing that's the same is how different it is," she said.
A Section on 08/02/2016
Print Headline: State ballot draws independents; Candidates, groups petition for spots in presidential contest