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Forming a Political Party in Iowa

Forming a Political Party in Iowa

What does the term "political party" mean?

The term “political party” has a legal definition. Iowa law states that to be a political party, an organization must have had a candidate for president or governor who received at least 2 percent of the total votes cast at the last general election. (See Iowa Code section 43.2 for full definition.)

How many political parties does Iowa have?

Currently, Iowa has three political parties: the Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party.

What about the other "parties" I've seen on ballots?

In partisan elections, the name of each candidate who is certified to appear on the ballot and who is running affiliated with a political party or a non-party political organization (NPPO) will be listed with the name of the party or organization after the candidate's name. If a candidate runs without any party or non-party political organization affiliation, the candidate's name will appear on the ballot without any reference to party affiliation.

Iowa law calls a political organization not meeting the requirements to become a party a non-party political organization (NPPO). There are many NPPOs. NPPOs do not need to file any special paperwork to be officially recognized by the State. NPPOs may nominate one candidate for each partisan office.

Candidates affiliated with an NPPO may be nominated in one of two ways:

  1. By circulating nomination petitions. (This is the most common method.)

  2. How does a candidate's name get on the general election ballot?

  3. By holding a nominating convention.

  4. What is a nominating convention?

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What does "Independent" mean?

The term “independent” is used by candidates and the general public to refer to candidates who are not running under any party or NPPO’s ticket. In Iowa, if a candidate writes the word “Independent” on nomination papers, that candidate is indicating membership in the “Independent” NPPO and will be listed on the ballot that way. If a candidate intends to run without any party or NPPO affiliation, the box next to “Not affiliated with any organization” on the nomination petition and affidavit of candidacy should be checked. The candidate’s name will appear on the ballot without any reference to a party affiliation.

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How does my organization become a political party?

To gain political party status, a political organization must meet 3 conditions.

  1. An organization must have a candidate for president or governor on the general election ballot.
  2. The candidate for president or governor must receive at least 2 percent of the total votes cast in that race.
  3. At the 2008 General Election, a candidate running for president representing an NPPO would have had to receive 30,737 votes to qualify to apply for political party status. (See example.) No organization's nominee was able to do that.

    Example: Box A represents the total number of votes that were cast for the office of president in 2008. Box B represents 2 percent of Box A, and Box C rounds the number in Box B up to the next whole number. The number in Box C represents the number of votes a NPPO would have needed to receive at the 2008 General Election in order to apply for political party status.

    Box A
    Total Votes Cast (TVC)
    Box B
    TVC × 0.02
    Box C
    (Round up to the next whole #)
    1,536,820 30,736.40 30,737
  4. After the first two conditions are met, the organization must then file an Application for Political Party Status with the Secretary of State's Office. The application must be filed after the state canvass of votes but within one year of the date of the election. (See Iowa Administrative Code 721-21.10 for details.)
  5. If party status is gained, what else needs to be done?

    In order for a political party to remain a political party, the party's candidates for president and governor must keep receiving at least 2 percent of the total votes cast in each general election. If a party's candidate does not receive 2 percent of the total votes cast, the party's status is cancelled. To become a political party again, the entire process must be repeated.

    When was the last time an organization was successful at gaining party status?

    The most recent instance when an NPPO was successful at gaining political party status in Iowa was in 2022. The Libertarian Party of Iowa NPPO nomintated Rick Stewart for governor of Iowa. At the General Election, Stewart received 28,998 votes or 2.37% of the total votes cast for governor.

    The Libertarian Party of Iowa NPPO applied for and was granted political party status after the 2022 General Election. If in 2024 the Libertarian Party of Iowa’s candidate for president of the United States does not receive 2 percent of the totalb votes cast for that office in Iowa, the party’s status in Iowa will be cancelled.

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    How does a candidate's name get on the general election ballot?

    Candidates Affiliated with Political Party

    Political party candidates may circulate nomination petitions to have their names placed on the Primary Election ballot. The Primary Election is held prior to the General Election, and winners of the Primary will have their names placed on the General Election ballot. Political parties may also nominate candidates for the General Election (if no candidate was nominated at the Primary Election) by holding nominating conventions.

    Candidates Affiliated with NPPO or Without Any Affiliation

    NPPO candidates or candidates with no party affiliation must file nomination papers to have their name placed on the General Election ballot. Their nomination papers include an affidavit of candidacy and a set of nomination petitions or a convention certificate. Candidates running for president/vice president must also file a certificate of electors. Nomination papers must be filed during the filing period.

    In addition to providing the nomination papers, the Secretary of State's Office provides candidates' guides for each election. It is strongly recommended that all candidates obtain a copy of this election-specific guide and read it carefully. The guide gives candidates step-by-step instructions about the process, applicable dates, and general information.

    Nomination Petitions

    Petitions may be circulated at any time, however; nomination papers must be filed in the Secretary of State's Office during the General Election filing period. Also, eligible electors who signed petitions must be eligible electors at the time of filing in order for their signatures to count.

    NPPO Convention Certificate

    A candidate nominated by an NPPO convention must file an affidavit of candidacy, a certificate of nomination from the convention, and a list of the names and addresses of the convention attendees.

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    What is a nominating convention?

    A convention is a gathering of an organization (a political party or an NPPO). Conventions often include candidate nominations and organization platform planning.

    Minimum requirements are established by law for attendance at nomination conventions. If the minimum attendance requirements are not met for the specific office for which a nomination is being made, the nominations made at the convention do not qualify for inclusion on the ballot. The minimum attendance requirements for president/vice president and governor/lieutenant governor are as follows: (See Iowa Code section 44.1 for more information.)

    Office Minimum Attendance Number of counties that must be represented
    by at least one eligible elector
    President/Vice President 500 eligible electors* 25
    Governor/Lt. Governor 500 eligible electors* 25

    *Eligible elector: a person who meets all of the qualifications to register to vote. An eligible elector is not required to be a registered voter.

    A convention can be held at any time but it must be held before the end of the General Election candidate filing period. Convention documents must be filed in the Secretary of State's Office during the General Election filing period. Eligible electors who attended the convention must be eligible electors at the time filing in order for their attendance to count. Nomination papers cannot be filed before or after the filing period. When is the filing period?

    The NPPO must file the following to nominate a candidate by convention:

    1. A convention certificate
    2. An affidavit of candidacy for the nominated candidate
    3. A list of the attendees of the convention which includes, at minimum, the attendee's name and street address with city
    4. A certificate of electors (applies to presidential nominations only

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    What can we name our non-party political organization (NPPO)?

    Iowa law prohibits NPPOs from using “the name, or any part thereof, of any political party authorized or entitled under ... chapter [43, Primary Elections,] to nominate a ticket by primary vote.” (See Iowa Code section 43.121 for more.)

    This means that no part or version of the word Democatic, Libertarian or Republican can be used as part of an NPPO's name. Also, the Code limits the length of the name of an NPPO to not more than five words. (See Iowa Code section 44.3 for more.)

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