In Washington state this year, no minor party or independent candidates appeared on the November ballot for Congress, and only two minor party candidates appeared on the November ballot for state legislature. Both minor party candidates only qualified for the November ballot because, in each case, only one major party member filed to run in the primary. When there is only one major party member running, that makes it possible for a minor party member to place second in the primary, and appear on the November ballot.
The Green Party entered such a race in the 40th district in Whatcom and Skagit Counties, and the Socialist Alternative Party entered such a race in the 43rd district in Seattle. Both polled surprisingly high percentages in November. The Socialist Alternative Party candidate, Kshama Sawant, polled 28.62% (although not all the votes have been counted yet); the Green Party member, Howard A. Pellett, polled 24.13%. Both were running against incumbent Democrats.
Sawant’s ballot label was “Socialist Altern.” Washington state won’t allow party labels longer than 15 characters. If she had been running in California, the law would have not permitted her to have that label on the ballot. Instead, her label would have been “no party preference.” Under California rules, the whole significance of a self-designated socialist winning as much support as she did would have been eviscerated. That is an example of why party labels on the ballot are so important.