The history of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina has been a history of struggle to overcome some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation, rules written primarily by Democrats to maintain their one-party rule.
Despite these barriers, since its founding in 1976, the party fielded a candidate for governor and president in every election but one (1988). That required eight successful petition drives to collect more than 100,000 signatures each time to be “recognized” as a “new party” by the state.
The LPNC maintained ballot status continuously from 1996 to 2004. In that period alone, the LPNC placed over 300 candidates on the ballot for every office – from president of the United States to county soil and water district supervisor.
In 1976, Arlan Andrews, one of the party’s founders, was the first Libertarian candidate for governor.
“I gave newspaper and TV interviews across the state, debated the American Party candidate, Chub Seawell, on TV and generally had a great time,” recalled Andrews.
“I got some time with [Libertarian presidential candidate] Roger MacBride in his DC-3, confronted Democratic candidate Jim Hunt in a TV studio and embarrassed him in front of his laughing staff, and was threatened with death by the Worker’s Party Larouchians.”
The entire 1976 N.C. Libertarian ticket: Arlan Andrews (far left), candidate for governor; Roger McBride (center), presidential candidate; Carl Wagle (third from right), 5th district Congressional candidate; and Andrew Eiva (second from right, aide-de-camp to Andrews. The others are unidentified. (Photo Courtesy Arlan Andrews)
Lyndon LaRouche was an American political activist and a presidential candidate in each election from 1976 to 2004, running once for his own U.S. Labor Party and seven times for the Democratic Party nomination.
In 1978, Libertarians contested three of the 11 U.S. House seats in North Carolina. In 1992, Libertarian candidate for governor Scott McLaughlin received 4.5 percent of the popular vote and 104,983 votes. This remains the highest percentage gained by and third-party candidate for that office. That same year, three Libertarian candidates for the General Assembly each received more than 12 percent of the votes in their races.
There were Libertarian candidates for U.S. Senate and all 12 U.S. House seats in 1998.
In 2002, Libertarians fielded 145 candidates, including candidates for a majority of the seats in both houses of the General Assembly. Two years later, the party had candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. Senate, 12 state Senate, and 24 state House seats.
Dropped from the ballot in 2005, the party conducted what became its last petition drive for ballot status.
In 2008, Dr. Michael Munger, a Duke University, political science professor, qualified the LPNC as the first “new party” in modern North Carolina to retain ballot status through the ballot box. Munger got 2.87 percent of the vote for governor. The goalpost was two percent.
Two alternative parties, the States Rights and American Independent, hit that goal via the vote for president, but neither ever established a permanent presence in the state.
The party repeated the feat in 2012, when Barbara Howe, running her third campaign for governor, received 2.13 percent of the vote.
Interestingly, Libertarian candidates for other statewide offices, including U.S. Senate, lieutenant governor, and insurance commissioner, routinely draw more votes than the race for governor or even president.
In the hotly contested 2014 U.S. Senate, Sean Haugh, a former state chair and veteran Libertarian candidate, received what was at the time the highest number of votes for any statewide Libertarian candidate since 2008.
Haugh’s record did not last long. In 2018, the first-ever Libertarian candidate for judge eclipsed it. Michael Monaco got 167,772 votes for the State Court of Appeals. Then in 2020, U.S. Senate candidate Shannon Bray beat that record, reaching 171,571 votes.
In addition to petitioning for ballot access, the LPNC has championed ballot access reform through legislation, working groups across the political spectrum. These groups included the Green and Constitution parties, the John Locke Foundation, Democracy NC, Common Cause, and the ACLU. Several bills the party and others sponsored chipped away at the restrictive barriers.
In 2005, the party filed an unsuccessful lawsuit, later joined by the Green Party, challenging North Carolina’s “entire statutory scheme of regulating political parties” under the state constitution.
Oddly, in 2006 while the lawsuit was still going through the courts, the General Assembly lowered the retention threshold from 10 percent to 2 percent.
Perseverance and persistence working for free, fair, and open elections eventually paid off in 2017 — a bill passed by the General Assembly dramatically lowered ballot access barriers.
The key reforms were to reduce the number of signatures needed to be recognized as a political party from two percent to one-quarter of one percent of the voter for governor in the last election. The second significant change is to allow a party that had a presidential candidate on the ballot in at least 35 states to also qualify for the North Carolina ballot.
As a result of these changes, North Carolina will no longer be a two-party state, and the LPNC is all but assured of permanent ballot status.
The party has maintained a website (LPNC.org) since 1996 and has held annual conventions across the state since its inception. Executive committee members are elected biannually at these conventions to carry out the essential functions of a political party.
Since regaining and maintaining ballot status from 2008, the party’s growth has proportionally outstripped the Democrats and Republicans.
Both these old parties have steadily declined in voter registration numbers. That’s reflected in the nearly even three-way split in voter registration. About one-third of voters are registered Democrats, one-third Republican, and the remaining third are unaffiliated (independent).
The media and general public have recognized the Libertarians as a significant party in the state for 30 years. In every election the party has participated in over the last three decades, its voting numbers have increased. North Carolina, a historically overwhelming Democratic state, is now considered a swing state and a battleground state in every major national election.
Updated November 2021