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Arkansas Libertarians had their best election night ever on Tuesday, capturing 2.6 percent of the vote in the presidential race and topping 20 percent in three of the four congressional races.

But they needed 3 percent of the presidential votes in order to keep their status as a political party in Arkansas.

As a result, Libertarians won't automatically qualify for the state's 2018 elections.

They'll have to collect 10,000 valid signatures and submit them to the secretary of state's office in order to regain ballot access.

Frank Gilbert, the party's U.S. Senate candidate, said it's a ritual that Libertarian activists are already familiar with.

"It takes a lot of time and money to get back on the ballot," the former Tull mayor said. "We've done it three times. Now we'll start on the fourth."

With the votes counted and the polls closed, party officials say they'll start planning for the future.

"The election's behind us. We lick our wounds and evaluate our strengths and start building for the next election," said state Chairman Michael Pakko. "That's what the Libertarian Party does."

William Brackeen, the group's secretary, said the party's trajectory is encouraging, despite Tuesday's results.

"We're on an upward trend," he said. "This is a very Republican state right now ... so it's an uphill battle."

Libertarian candidates made gains despite losing, he said.

Their presidential nominee, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, received 29,593 votes, according to unofficial state returns. That's nearly double the 16,276 votes he captured in 2012.

Gilbert, who got 1.9 percent of the vote when he ran for governor two years ago, claimed 4 percent of the vote in his latest race.

Overall, the four Libertarian U.S. House candidates garnered nearly 200,000 votes statewide.

In three of the districts, they were the only obstacle between Republicans and re-election.

"It's kind of astounding," Brackeen said, referring to the dearth of Democratic challengers on the congressional level. "We're quite pleased to be able to offer voters an alternative in those races. ... We're happy to step in and pick up the slack."

With the 2016 election over, Libertarians will need to start raising money again. It takes between $30,000 and $40,000 to finance the signature drive, Brackeen said.

"That would buy a lot of yard signs and TV advertising," Brackeen noted.

Money wasn't abundant during the 2016 election cycle. Libertarian candidates typically don't raise and spend enough money to trigger Federal Election Commission reporting requirements.

Mark West, who challenged 1st District U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, had a low-budget campaign, spending less than a dime for each of his 56,701 votes.

The office manager and Southern Baptist minister from Batesville finished with nearly 23.7 percent of the vote.

While he would've preferred victory, West said, he's pleased that Libertarians made inroads and gave voters an additional option.

"A lot of people in the state are wanting change. ... They're interested in an alternative. They're interested in hearing a different voice," he said.

A Section on 11/10/2016

Print Headline: Libertarians lose but see gains

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