Party-status bill stirs Ventura; backers say it’ll curb ballot ‘mischief’

Two men sitting at a table in a large room
Former Gov. Jesse Ventura spoke against a bill that would make it harder for third party candidates to get on the ballot during a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Minnesota’s third parties are steaming over a bill to make their path to the big leagues more difficult as the leaders of the state’s Republican and DFL parties align to head off a system they say is ripe for mischief.

While it might seem to some as insider political drama, the clash carries some high stakes: Parties with major status in Minnesota are afforded automatic ballot access and their candidates can qualify for public subsidies.

A hearing on the measure drew a crowd Tuesday, including former Gov. Jesse Ventura. He warned that requiring minor parties to post a higher vote threshold to be elevated or do so through a petition drive would close off avenues to third-party candidates.

“So there could never be another Governor Jesse Ventura,” he told the Senate Elections Committee before its 8-4 vote to send the bill to the floor. “The people of Minnesota won’t be able to shock the world again.”

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Ventura rode the Reform Party’s automatic ballot line to his 1998 upset victory. He served one term and didn’t run again.

After the hearing, Ventura threatened to “thump” the major parties through a comeback campaign if the bill becomes law.

“Obviously, they didn't believe it the first time. So it's maybe it's time to remind them again,” Ventura said, teasing a 2026 bid for governor as a Libertarian candidate. “I mean, that's how ticked off I am today.”

Oliver Steinberg is chair of the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party, which gained major-party status in 2018. He favors clamping down on candidates who abuse the automatic ballot access as a way to play spoiler in key races.

“Since there's no penalty for lying on the affidavit of candidacy, the legalization parties had no legal leverage to repel those political poachers,” he said in committee testimony. Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis lost major-party status after the 2022 election.

The chairs of the Republican and DFL parties both wrote letters in support of the bill. 

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said Minnesota has “lax ballot access standards” and some major parties have had trouble vetting candidates running under their banner.

GOP Chair David Hann said it would require parties and candidates to show broad appeal.

“Raising the threshold for major party status may also help prevent groups from playing games or abusing our elections process, as has happened in recent years,” Hann wrote.

Even with Hann’s backing, the committee’s four Republicans opposed the bill.

“We should not be restricting ballot access for more and more Minnesotans that want to go outside of the two-party system,” said Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Milaca. “And this would appear to look like a unified effort to try to do so.”

Burnsville City Council member Cara Schultz, who helps recruit candidates for the Libertarian Party, said raising the threshold would “demoralize emerging parties, limit voter choice and silence voices” outside of the two big parties.

“While I'm not surprised that they support the bill, after all, their duty is to win elections at any cost, I am disgusted by it,” she said. “We are not spoilers.”

The companion bill is set for its first House hearing on Friday. House Elections Committee Chair Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, said he supports the bill.

“The current law has been susceptible to mischief,” he said. “I want to do what's in the best interest of Minnesotans, and I don't think having candidates who don't really believe what they profess to believe and don't really belong to the party that they're claiming that they're filing to run for is helpful to Minnesotans.”