Political Party Qualification

A qualified political party is entitled to participate in any primary election or presidential general election. (Elections Code § 338.) The following information is for a new political party to be entitled to participate in either the June 5, 2018, primary election or the November 6, 2018, general election.

The political parties currently qualified to participate in the elections are, in alphabetical order: the American Independent Party, the Democratic Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, and the Republican Party.

Beginning the Process of Qualifying a Political Party

Whenever a group of electors desires to qualify a new political party, the group shall form a political body by carrying out the following two requirements (Elections Code § 5001):

Hold a Caucus or Convention

The group of electors must hold a caucus or convention at which temporary officers shall be elected and a party name designated. The designated name shall not be so similar to the name of an existing party so as to mislead the voters, and shall not conflict with that of any existing political party or other political body.

Filing Notice with Secretary of State

Following the convention, the group must file a formal notice with the Secretary of State. The notice must contain the following information:

  • That the political body has organized,
  • That the political body elected temporary officers,
  • That the political body intends to qualify a political party pursuant to Elections Code section 5100 or 5151, but not both, and
  • The names and addresses of the temporary officers of the political body.

Upon receipt of the above notice, the Secretary of State will notify county elections officials of the name of the political body, its intent to qualify as a political party, and whether it intends to qualify for the next primary election or for the next presidential general election. (Elections Code § 5002.)

A political body is entitled, upon request to the Secretary of State, to have counted toward its qualification as a political party, affidavits of registration in which voters disclosed a preference with the political body prior to the date the political body filed the above notice. This request must be made within the first 70 days after filing the notice. (Elections Code § 5003.)

Two Methods to Qualify a Political Party

A political body may use one of two methods to qualify as a political party: voter registration or petition. (Elections Code §§ 5100, 5151.)

Voter Registration Method - Elections Code Section 5100(b) or 5151(c)

To qualify a new political party by voter registration requires that voters equal in number to at least 0.33 percent of the total number of voters registered on the 154th day before the primary election or the 123rd day before the presidential general election complete an affidavit of registration, disclosing a preference by writing in the name of the political body intending to qualify as a political party. (Elections Code §§ 5100(b), 5151(c).)

These completed affidavits of registration must be submitted to the county elections officials 154 days prior to any primary election (if intending to qualify to participate in the next primary election) or 123 days before a presidential general election(if intending to qualify to participate in the next presidential general election). (Elections Code §§ 2187(d)(1), (d)(4).) The completed affidavits of registration should be submitted to the elections official in the counties of the voters' residences. They may be submitted to the Secretary of State's office, although this will result in delays to the counties' receipt of the affidavits.

  • 154 days prior to the June 5, 2018, primary election is January 2, 2018.
  • 123 days prior to the November 6, 2018, presidential general election is July 3, 2020.

The Secretary of State must determine, from examining and totaling the reports of registration from the counties, that the political body obtained voter registrations equal in number to at least 0.33 percent of the total number of voters registered on the 154th day before the primary election or the 123rd day before the presidential general election. (Elections Code §§ 5100(b), 5151(c).)

If a political body chooses to use the voter registration method, they can contact the Secretary of State Elections Division to obtain voter registration cards. Any request of 50 or more voter registration cards will require a representative from the political body to complete and submit a "Voter Registration Card Statement of Distribution" form to the Secretary of State. A "Voter Registration Card Statement of Distribution" form is available on the Secretary of State's website at elections.cdn.sos.ca.gov/vrdis.pdf. The completed form must be mailed or faxed to:

  • Secretary of State
  • Elections Division
  • 1500 11th Street, 5th Floor
  • Sacramento CA 95814
  • Fax: (916) 653-3214

Information on voter registration drives is available on the Secretary of State's website at www.sos.ca.gov/elections/additional-elections-information/publications-and-resources/guide-vr-drives/.

Petition Method - Elections Code Section 5100(c) or 5151(d)

To qualify a new political party by petition, no later than 135 days prior to the primary election or the presidential general election, the Secretary of State must determine if a political body intending to qualify collected petition signatures of registered voters equal to 10 percent of the votes cast at the last gubernatorial election. (Elections Code §§ 5100(c), 5151(d).) The current signature requirement is 751,398 (10% of 7,513,972, the votes cast at the November 4, 2014, gubernatorial election).

In order for the Secretary of State to make this determination on or before the 135th day prior to the primary election or the presidential general election, the counties must have ample time to count and verify the signatures.

  • 135 days prior to the June 5, 2018, primary election is January 21, 2018.
  • 135 days prior to the November 6, 2018, presidential general election is June 21, 2020.

If a political body chooses the petition process, it is responsible to print and distribute petitions at its expense. The Secretary of State does not review the petition prior to its distribution. The political body may need to obtain the services of an attorney who is familiar with election law to ensure the accuracy of the petition.

The petition process to qualify a political party is similar to the initiative petition process. (Elections Code §§ 5100(c), 5151(d).) For example, the petitions must be filed with the appropriate county elections officials and may be submitted in sections; however, all the sections submitted in a single county must be filed at the same time. Information on the initiative process is available on the Secretary of State's website at www.sos.ca.gov/ballot-measures/initiative-guide.htm.

If the Political Body Qualifies as a Political Party

A newly qualified political party must determine which existing political party's statutory provisions it will follow for the operation of its activities. The temporary officers of the newly qualified political party shall file notice of its selection with the Secretary of State not later than 30 days after the political party qualifies. (Elections Code § 5005.)

A political party newly qualified pursuant to Elections Code section 5100 must also determine which existing political party's statutory provisions it will follow for the conduct of its presidential primary election. If the newly qualified political party has not elected permanent officers, the temporary officers shall notify the Secretary of State of its selection on or before the 125th day before the presidential primary election. (Elections Code § 5006.)

The existing qualified political parties with statutes relating to their activities and the conduct of their presidential primary elections are: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the American Independent Party, and the Peace and Freedom Party.

Maintaining Its Qualified Status

  • Once qualified, a political party maintains its qualified status by:
  • Retaining registrants representing at least 1/15 of 1 percent (0.067%) of the total state registration (Elections Code §§ 5101, 5153); and
  • Having one of its statewide candidates (running for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer, Attorney General, Insurance Commissioner, or United States Senator) receive at least 2 percent of the entire vote of the state for that office at the June 3, 2014, gubernatorial primary election (Elections Code §§ 5100(a), 5151(b)); or
  • Retaining statewide registration equaling at least 0.33 percent of the total number of voters registered on the 154th day before the primary election or the 123rd day before the presidential general election. (Elections Code §§ 5100(b), 5151(c).)

If the Political Body Fails to Qualify as a Political Party

If by the 135th day before any primary election (if intending to qualify to participate in the next primary election) or the 102nd day prior to a presidential general election (if intending to qualify to participate in the next presidential general election), a political body has not qualified as a political party, the political body shall be considered to have abandoned its attempt to qualify as a political party and shall be ineligible to participate in the following primary election or the following presidential general election. (Elections Code § 5004.)

Note to Political Body Organizers

These web pages are intended to provide general information about the formation of political bodies and the qualification of political parties and do not have the force and effect of law, regulation, or rule. It is distributed with the understanding that the Secretary of State is not rendering legal advice and these pages are not a substitute for legal counsel for any person or group using it.

In case of conflict, the law, regulation, or rule will apply. Interested persons should obtain the most up-to-date information available because of possible changes in law or procedure since the publication of these pages.