photo: Flickr by Tertiary Education Union  

Democrat Stephanie Thomas and Republicans Toni Boucher, Gail Lavielle, and Larry Cafero have already secured their respective parties’ nominations and will appear under those party columns on Election Day ballots in November. But all four are also hoping to appear on the ballots in a second spot, as endorsed candidates for minor parties–the Independent Party for Boucher, Lavielle and Cafero; and the Working Families Party for Thomas.

It may be confusing as to why a major party candidate would also seek out the endorsement of another party. Is it for the optics, as a signal that they’re distancing themselves from their affiliated major party? Or is it a strategic move to get more voters who might prefer to vote for candidates from other than the two major parties?

GOOD Morning Wilton decided to break it down for readers, some of whom told us they were confused when they heard that local candidates they knew were affiliated with a major party were also trying to get on the ballot with a minor party. Here’s what we learned:

What are these minor parties and what do they stand for?

There are many minor–or third parties–in Connecticut:  there were 29 we counted on a list provided by the CT Secretary of State‘s office. Some of them have members that number in the thousands; others have just one member. Some of the third parties run their own candidates in local and statewide elections. Several of them also cross-endorse Democrats and Republicans who are already running as well.

According to the CT Secretary of State’s office, the largest third party in Connecticut is the Independent Party, with 25,539 members–many more than the state’s next largest minor party, the Libertarian Party, with 2,880 registered members. (Compare that to 766,369 registered Democrats, 449,394 registered Republicans, and 859,235 unaffiliated voters). Those very large Independent Party numbers may be thanks to confused voters who (some say mistakenly) write, “independent” on a voter registration card when they intend to simply be unaffiliated from any party.

This year, the Independent Party in Connecticut is in the middle of an internal battle, between two factions claiming control. They’re tied up in a lawsuit that is expected to be settled by a CT Superior Judge any day, but in the meantime, there’s no definitive word as to which side gets to make the call on who to endorse. That may impact our local politicians once post-primary campaigning begins.

Even with only 321 registered members, the Working Families Party (WFP) has had an outsized impact in CT politics in the past; according to Ballotpedia, there were 27,000 votes cast for Dannel Malloy on the WFP ballot line in 2010–the year Malloy won by an even slimmer margin of approximately 5,000 votes. CTWFP also endorsed Bernie Sanders in the last Democratic presidential primary.

Along with the Independent and Working Families parties, the Libertarian Party (2,880 members) and the Green Party (1,804 members) make up the only four minor parties which are able to register voters statewide as party members.

How do the major party candidates get third-party endorsement and appear on the ballot?

There are two main steps for a candidate to get that additional second line on the ballot. The first step is to ask for or apply for the minor party’s endorsement. In the case of the Working Families Party, candidates looking for cross-endorsement fill out and submit an application; for the Independents, Lavielle reports that she sent a letter asking for their nod.

But even if they get that cross-endorsement, that doesn’t guarantee getting put on the ballot. If the minor party wasn’t on the ballot in the race during the last election, they have to essentially petition to get on. To do that, the party has to get signatures equal to 1.0% of the total number of votes cast in the last election for the state to recognize the third party as ‘worthy’ of being on the ballot. Signatures can be from voters of any party, as long as the person signing is a registered voter.

The minor parties make the candidate who wants the spot gather all the required signatures. So if you’ve seen a candidate recently asking for signatures on a petition in order to run on a second line, that candidate is really collecting signatures on behalf of the third party to have ballot access.

Once the signatures are obtained, the candidate submits the nominating petitions to the town clerk, who then has to verify all the signatures, making sure that the signatures are from actual registered voters.

Wilton candidates and their supporters were spotted around town soliciting petition signatures in order make sure they hit their goal. Wednesday, Aug. 8 at 4 p.m., was this year’s deadline to submit petitions with the number of signatures required by the CT Secretary of State to get them on those second ballot spots.

Why do candidates really want the third party endorsement?

So why do major party candidates want that third party cross endorsement? It’s probably a combination of both strategy and optics. According to one political insider who worked on a statewide campaign a few years ago (but asked not to be named), “Sometimes you have people that don’t want to vote for the Republican or Democratic Party. This way the candidate can still get the vote, and the voter still can say they have never voted for the party.”

Cross-party endorsements have been more common in statewide races–the perfect example is Jim Himes, who is also seeking the Working Families endorsement for his Congressional re-election campaign, and gubernatorial candidates from both parties who frequently seek third party endorsements. But it’s a tactic that’s becoming more common in the smaller races as well, according to Gabe Rosenberg, the media spokesman for the CT Secretary of State.

We reached out to the four Wilton candidates who submitted petitions by Wednesday’s deadline to ask why they were hoping get that minor party endorsed ballot spot.

Boucher, running for reelection as State Senator (R-26), says if she’s successful at getting having her name on a second line gives voters more opportunity to vote for her. “It gives the voter more options or flexibility. In the end a candidate may get the same number of votes. It is just the adding of votes from two lines instead of just one line.” Her opponent Will Haskell is not pursuing third party endorsement.

Thomas, running to unseat Lavielle in the 143rd State House district, says, “I am running in part because state’s rights have never been more important than they are now given the policy directives emanating from Washington DC. Although I have not yet been endorsed by the Working Families Party, they have been fighting for decades for policies that I endorse such as affordable health care, job creation, quality public education, raising the minimum wage, the student debt crisis, and environmental reform. I would like to continue to promote those platforms in Connecticut and should they choose to endorse my candidacy, it will provide voters of all parties with additional choice on the ballot.”

Lavielle had never sought the Independent Party endorsement before, but during the last campaign two years ago, she didn’t have an opponent. This year, she does. “If it were called the Bluegrass Party or Conservative Party I would not do it. But because it’s called the Independent Party it has a nice ring in the way I like to consider every issue on its the merits, and not by going by one particular ideology. That’s the way I do things, and I like the idea of being cross-endorsed by party that calls itself independent. There are people who do like to have someone representing them who can be independent, and not just follow one ideology.”

Cafero, running for the first time in for Judge Probate, :   I have been very fortunate to have had many supporters from both Norwalk and Wilton reach out to me since I announced my candidacy for Judge of Probate. I am honored to say that my supporters are Affiliated with the Democrat and Republican Parties as well as Independents and Unaffiliated. Given the non-partisan and non political nature of the office. I have been encouraged to seek the Independent Party Nomination as well as the Republican Party Nomination. I chose to do so and garnered more than 300 signatures of voters in Norwalk and Wilton to appear on the Ballot on the Independent Party line as well as the Republican line. I will be honored to have the nomination of both parties.