The ballot access requirements for the presidential election of 2016 can now be estimated. Many states determine the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot for an upcoming election based on the number of votes cast in the preceding election. Now that the November 2014 election is over, it is possible to know approximately what the 2016 requirements will be.
In some states, the number of signatures for a newly-qualifying party and the number of signatures for an independent presidential candidate are identical. In some states, the number of signatures for a newly-qualifying party is a larger number than the number needed for an independent presidential candidates, and in other states, the reverse is true, and the requirement is easier for a newly-qualifying party than an independent.
If a presidential candidate, running outside the two major parties, chooses the easier of the two methods (new party or independent) in each state, he or she will only need approximately 579,000 valid signatures (or registrants into a party) to get on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. That number will change if the 2015 state legislatures change any ballot access laws. Bills to lower the number of signatures are expected in Alabama, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and probably other states.
One ambiguity in the calculation is that it is not always obvious which method (new party or independent) is easier. It is particularly tough to decide this for California. Independent presidential candidates will need 178,039 signatures by mid-August 2016. Newly-qualifying parties that wish to participate only in the presidential election will need approximately 61,000 registrants by mid-July 2016. The calculation showing the 2016 requirement is 579,000 supporters assumes that the California registration method is easier, because the number is so much lower. But if one assumes that the independent petition is truly the easier method, then the national figure becomes 696,000.
The national 2012 figure, using the California independent petition procedure was 722,076.
One reason the 2016 requirements are easier than the 2012 requirements is that Virginia lowered its petition requirement from 10,000 to 5,000 in 2013, and California lowered the new party registration method from about 104,000 to about 61,000 in 2014. Another reason the requirements are lower is that the 2014 turnout in most states was very low.