- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Libertarian Party members from North Dakota will for the first time field a full slate of statewide candidates in 2016, while South Dakota faithful are working to regain ballot access. Party officials from both states are meeting Saturday in Mandan, where North Dakota supporters are expected to endorse statewide candidates and elect party officers.

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THIRD-PARTY THRESHOLD

The Libertarian Party is automatically eligible to place candidates on the 2016 North Dakota ballot after Roland Riemers, the party chairman from Grand Forks, got 5.3 percent of the vote last November in the secretary of state race won by incumbent Al Jaeger.

It was the first time in at least 20 years that a third party - and the only time the Libertarian Party - could automatically be placed on the statewide North Dakota ballot for exceeding the 5 percent requirement.

North Dakota law requires Libertarians and other lesser-known political parties to get at least 7,000 signatures every two years to assure themselves a ballot column, which has been done in every statewide election since 2008. The law waives the signature requirement only if a minor-party statewide candidate gets at least 5 percent of the vote in midterm elections for attorney general or secretary of state, or more than 5 percent in a governor’s race.

North Dakota Libertarians are especially focused on next year’s governor’s race to maintain eligibility without having to gather signatures.

“Our goal is more than to maintain ballot access,” said Jack Seaman, a Fargo gold and silver dealer and longtime Libertarian. “Our goal is to win races. I don’t think our party is stopping until that goal is met.”

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SOUTH DAKOTA STATUS

South Dakota’s Libertarian Party also is participating in the convention, but chairman Ken Santema said members don’t plan to elect party officers or endorse political candidates until next year.

The party is collecting signatures to regain recognized party status in order to field candidates in 2016, Santema said. The party lost the state’s recognition after failing to field a gubernatorial candidate in the 2014 election, but it has had party status in South Dakota for 20-plus years, he said.

State libertarians need to collect and submit nearly 7,000 signatures by the end of March 2016 to regain their status as a political party.

Santema said the hope is to run up to a dozen candidates for legislative and county offices, and maybe a challenger to Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem.

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WHAT’S A LIBERTARIAN?

Libertarians have a free-market philosophy, including turning most government services over to private companies to handle.

“We simply want less government and more personal freedom,” said Seaman, who got almost 6 percent of the vote for North Dakota’s lone House seat last year. Santema defined the party as fiscally conservative and socially liberal - “the best of both worlds.”

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UNIFIED MESSAGE

Riemers, the party chairman in North Dakota, said Libertarians historically have had a tough time synchronizing a party message. He said “getting along” will be a topic at the meeting in Mandan this weekend.

“Libertarians seem to be so disagreeable - we can’t agree with each other,” he said.

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