Libertarian Party of Tennessee
The Libertarian Party of Tennessee was founded in Nashville, Tennessee on August 3, 1974. Originally, the party was known as the Tennessee Libertarian Party (TLP). Members later changed the name to Libertarian Party of Tennessee, including the postal abbreviation for Tennessee (TN) in the abbreviation LPTN.
Founding officers included Chairman Jim Forrester of Memphis: East Tennessee co-chairman Wendell Hill of Chattanooga. Roger Bissel of Nashville. Sandra Dean of Memphis served as first secretary. Bay L. Walker of Nashville was the first treasurer. The party’s principles stated, “Each individual, by nature, has the right to life – the right to live his life in any manner that does not interfere by force of fraud with the equal right of another. No groups of government may violate these individual rights….”
From 1796 to 1830 voters brought their own ballots to the polls in Tennessee. This was per Public Acts of Tennessee, 1796, Chapter IX, Section 2. In 1830 political parties began printing ballots and giving them to voters to take the polls on election day. In 1888, Massachusetts became the first state to adopt what is known as the Australian Ballot (introduced in Victoria and South Australia in 1856). This is the secret ballot produced at public expense. In 1890 Tennessee adopted the Dortch Ballot Laws (Public Acts of Tennessee, 1890, Chapter 24), which adopted the Australian ballot in Tennessee. The Dortch Ballot law was enacted to disenfranchise illiterate African American voters after the ratification of the reconstruction Amendments. The Dortch ballot law was the origin of Tennessee’s 25 signatures for candidates to appear on the ballot. The Dortch ballot law did not define a political party.
Public Acts of Tennessee, 1961, Chapter 103 defined a political party for the first time in Tennessee history. The 1961 requirements were twice of what they are today. The 1961 law was enacted because Porter Freeman, a perennial candidate, was trying to run under the Free Democratic Party (a party he helped to found) for the Tennessee Supreme Court. Porter Freeman opposed the use of the party label and primary filing fees. The Tennessee House floor debate of Public Acts of Tennessee, 1961, Chapter 103 includes mention of an opinion of the Attorney General of Tennessee. The opinion was entered in evidence in the Tennessee Supreme Court Case of Freeman v. Felts 344 S.W.2d 550 (1961).
In Williams v. Rhodes 393 U.S. 23 (1968) the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Ohio’s 15% support requirement or new parties. In Jenness v. Fortson 403 U.S. 431 (1971) the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s 5% of support for new parties. Tennessee’s requirements were modified with the passage of Public Acts of Tennessee of 1972, chapter. 740. In 2000 with the “Fair Ballot Access Act of 2000,” the Tennessee legislature authorized ballot access for the 2000 presidential election for candidates who polled 5,000 votes for the presidential race in 1996. Qualifying candidates could have their political party’s name printed next to their names on the November 2000 ballot. After the 2000 election, a non-statewide political party’s name could be listed next to the name of its presidential candidate, only if the party’s candidate received 5% of the votes in Tennessee’s last presidential election. Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-5-208(d)(1). In the 2000 presidential election, presidential candidates of the Libertarian, Reform, and Green parties had their respective name next to their candidate’s name, but their candidates were listed under an “Independent” heading. Since the 2000 general election Tennessee and Oklahoma are the only states in which only the Democratic and Republican parties have appeared on the ballot.
Process to establish a political party
The Tennessee Code makes the distinction between a "statewide political party" and a "recognized minor party." A recognized minor party means any group or association that has successfully petitioned by filing with the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections a petition that conforms to requirements established by the code. Those requirements include submitting a petition with signatures equaling 2.5 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor at the last gubernatorial election. A "statewide political party" means a political party that had at least one statewide candidate in the past four calendar years receive 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for a statewide office. A statewide political party has automatic access to the ballot.
In order to become a recognized minor party, a petition must be submitted to the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections and must include the following:
1. the signatures of registered voters equal to at least 2.5 percent of the total number of votes cast for gubernatorial candidates in the most recent election for governor.
2. the petition's purpose, the party's name, and signatures of registered voters from a single county. Petitions are not issued more than 90 days before the qualifying deadline. The coordinator of elections has the power to determine the start date for the issuance of petitions.
No political party may have nominees on a ballot, or exercise any of the rights of political parties, until its officers have filed the following with the secretary of state and with the coordinator of elections:
1. an affidavit under oath that the party does not advocate the overthrow of local, state, or national government by force or violence and that it is not affiliated with any organization that does advocate such a policy. In its July 2015 ruling in Green Party of Tennessee; Constitution Party of Tennessee vs Tre Hargett, et al the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that Tennessee’s requirement of a loyalty oath violated the plaintiff’s rights as enumerated in the Frist Amendment.
2. a copy of the rules under which the party and its subdivisions operate; copies of amendments or additions to the rules must be filed with the secretary of state and with the coordinator of elections within 30 days after they are adopted and cannot take effect until 10 days after they are filed
Once a non-recognized minor party submits the petition containing the required number of signatures, the party will become an officially recognized minor party. To retain access to the ballot in subsequent election cycles, a statewide candidate for that party must win 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for that office. On April 22, 2014, Governor Bill Haslam signed SB 1466 into law. The bill altered the process by which aspirant political parties can access the ballot at the county level, lowering the petition signature requirement from 5 to 2.5 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor at the last election and lowering the vote test for maintaining qualified status from 20 to 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor.
Also, the bill included a provision for aspirant parties to qualify for ballot placement in special elections (such a provision did not exist prior to the enactment of SB 1466). Parties must submit petitions containing signatures equal to 2.5 percent of the vote cast for governor within the electoral division at the most recent election for that office. Richard Winger of Ballot Access News noted that the requirement "is wildly impractical, because generally in special elections, the time to collect signatures is short.
Tennessee Ballot Access Litigation
1977: TENNESSEE LIBERTARIAN PARTY et al., Appellants, v. DEMOCRATIC PARTY of Tennessee et al., Appellees. 555 S.W.2d 102 (1977)
2008: Libertarian Party of Tennessee et al v. Thompson et al January 23, 2008
2010: Libertarian Party of Tennessee v. Goins, 793 F. Supp. 2d 1064 (M.D. Tenn. 2010)
2013: Tomasik et al v. Goins et al October 9, 2013
2014: Lewis et al v. Goins et al July 31, 2014
Ballot Access Legislation sponsored by the Libertarian Party of Tennessee
2016: "Fiscally Responsible Equal Election Diversification Optimization Measures (FREEDOM) Act" (Senate Bill No. 2528 House Bill No. 2457)
2017: SB 0770/ HB 0662 As introduced, revises the number of signatures that a petition must bear for purposes of qualifying as a recognized minor party; revises the number of votes that a political party must receive for purposes of qualifying as a statewide political party.
Ballot Access Drive In 2016 the Libertarian Party of Tennessee began the process of collecting 33,844 VALID signatures of registered voters in Tennessee to qualify for ballot access in 2018. The Libertarian Party of Tennessee does not yet have full ballot access.
As of 2010, the Libertarian Party of Tennessee had 2 elected officials to non-partison offices.
- Mike Sexton
Union County Commissioner, District 6
- Wallace Redd
Clarksville City Council, Ward 4
Size and Influence
2004 - 2016
1972 - 2003
|2007||(Nov) 1,804||(Nov) 250|
|State Organizations of the National Libertarian Party|