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Starting a Party and Nominating Candidates

Candidate Eligibility

The general eligibility requirements to be a candidate for a public elective office in Texas are that a person must: 1) be a United States citizen; 2) be 18 years of age or older on the first day of the term to be filled at the election; 3) have not been determined totally mentally incapacitated or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote by a final judgment of a court exercising probate jurisdiction; 4) have not been finally convicted of a felony from which the person has not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities; 5) have resided continuously in the state for 12 months and in the territory from which the office is elected for six months immediately preceding a date which varies according to the candidate’s status; and 6) satisfy any other eligibility requirements prescribed by law for the office. These requirements do not apply to an office for which the federal or state constitution or a statute outside the Texas Election Code ("the Code") prescribes exclusive eligibility requirements. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 141.001 (Vernon Supp. 2012).

Procedures for Establishing a Minor Party

Chapter 181 of the Code applies to a political party making nominations by convention, except Chapter 182 of the Code applies to a political party making nominations only for county and precinct offices. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §§ 181.001, 182.001. A person wishing to start a political party in Texas must form an organization and elect a chair and other necessary officers. §§ 181.004, 182.002. The organization must have a name of three words or less. § 161.002.

A political party that makes candidate nominations in Texas and has a state executive committee must adopt rules that, among other things, prescribe (1) the parliamentary procedure governing the conduct of party meetings and conventions from the precinct level to the state level; (2) the method of selecting the party's presidential elector candidates; (3) the manner of selecting party officers, convention delegates, convention alternates, and convention officials; and (4) the manner of adopting party rules and amendments to the rules. § 163.002. A political party's rules, including amendments to rules, governing or affecting conventions or nominees ("rule on electoral affairs") may be adopted only by a state convention or the state executive committee. If by the state executive committee, the rules may be temporary, if adoption before the next state convention is necessary, or permanent, if the state executive committee is expressly required or authorized by statute to adopt a rule. § 163.004. The rules adopted must be consistent with state law. § 163.003.

The state chair must file a copy of each rule on electoral affairs with the Secretary of State. § 163.005(a). In addition, all party rules (whether temporary or permanent), must be posted on the state party’s Internet Website. § 163.005(f). A rule must be filed not later than the 30th day after the date of its adoption. § 163.005(b). Exception: A rule on electoral affairs that is to become effective in a year in which the party will hold precinct conventions must be filed with the Secretary of State and posted on the party's Internet website not later than the 30th day before the date the party convenes its earliest precinct conventions. § 163.006(a). The Secretary of State may extend this deadline for good cause. A rule on electoral affairs is not effective until filed. § 163.005(e). If a party fails to file a rule, the party is not entitled to have its nominees placed on the ballot for the general election for state and county officers. § 163.006(b). The temporary rules must be considered by the membership at the first state convention after their adoption. § 163.004(b).

A minor party (also referred to as “third party” or a “new political party”) may nominate candidates either by convention or primary election, if the party’s nominee for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election received at least two percent but less than twenty percent of the total number of votes received by all candidates for governor. § 181.002. If the political party chooses to nominate by primary election, the state chair must deliver written notice to the Secretary of State at least one year prior to the general election. § 172.002. Parties whose candidates received twenty percent or more are required to hold a primary election. § 172.001.

A political party that intends to make nominations by convention for the general election for state and county officers under Chapter 181 (except a party making nominations only for county and precinct offices under Chapter 182) must register with the Secretary of State not later than January 2 of the election year (extended to Monday, January 4, 2016). The form used for registering a minor party is located in the forms section (PDF) of the Secretary of State’s website. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 181.0041. A party must make nominations of candidates by convention if the party is not authorized to nominate by primary election. § 181.003. A political party making state nominations under Chapter 181 of the Code is required to establish a state executive committee. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 181.004.

Nomination by Convention Method

The procedure for nominating minor party candidates by convention is governed by Chapter 181 of the Texas Election Code. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 181.001. To be considered for nomination by a convention, a candidate, for an office other than president and vice-president of the United States, must make an application for nomination. § 181.031(a). The application must be filed no later than 6:00 p.m. on December 14, 2015, preceding the minor party’s convention. § 181.033. Candidates seeking nomination for a state or district office must file with the state party chair. § 181.032(a)(1). Candidates for county or precinct offices must file applications with the county party chair. § 181.032(a)(2). The state and county chairs must file a list of candidates with the Secretary of State not later than 10 days after the filing deadline. § 181.032(b).

Minor parties nominating by convention must hold the following conventions: precinct conventions on the second Tuesday in March (i.e., March 8, 2016); county conventions on the first Saturday after the second Tuesday in March (i.e., March 12, 2016); district conventions on the second Saturday after the second Tuesday in March (i.e., March 19, 2016); and state conventions on the second Saturday in April (i.e., April 9, 2016). § 181.061. The chair of each convention will certify the nominees to the county election officer (county or precinct offices) or the Secretary of State (district or statewoffices) not later than 20 days after each corresponding convention. § 181.068.

Minimum of Precinct Participants Required

To be entitled to place their nominees on the general election ballot, third parties must first file a list of precinct convention participants with the Secretary of State not later than the 75th day after the date of the precinct conventions (i.e., May 23, 2016). Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 181.005(a). (deadline extended under Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 1.006) The list must include the residence address and voter registration number of each participant. § 181.005(a). The list must indicate that the number of participants equals at least one percent of the total number of votes received by all candidates for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election. The one percent figure for the 2014 gubernatorial election is 47,183.

The list of precinct convention participants may be supplemented by petitions (PDF) signed by registered voters who have not voted in a primary election or participated in another party’s convention. § 181.006. The petition may not be circulated until after the date of the party’s precinct conventions (i.e., March 8, 2016). § 181.006(j).

Once a minor party is on the general election ballot, the party is entitled to have the names of its nominees placed on the ballot, without meeting the petition requirements, in each subsequent general election following a general election in which the party’s nominee for statewide office received at least five percent of the vote for that office. § 181.005(b). For the 2016 general election, the Libertarian Party and the Green Party are entitled to have their nominees on the 2016 general election ballot.

Financial Disclosure Requirements

Under Title 15 of the Code, candidates must file campaign contribution and expenditure reports. For further information and all questions about such disclosure filings, campaign finance, and political advertising, please contact the Texas Ethics Commission at 201 E. 14th, 10th Floor, Austin, Texas 78701, P.O. Box 12070, Austin, Texas 78711-2070 (or call 512-463-5800 or visit its website). Candidates filing for federal offices should contact the Federal Elections Commission toll-free at 1-800-424-9530 or visit its website.

All references are to the Texas Election Code.