How Many Signatures Are Required
States generally use one of two different methods to decide how many signatures potential candidates must gather: (1) a defined number of signatures or (2) signatures from a percentage of a defined population.
These requirements vary depending on whether the candidate is a major party candidate or an independent candidate.
Major Party Candidates
- 20 states and the Virgin Islands require only a defined number of signatures, ranging from 15 to 2,000.
- 11 states require only a percentage.
- 4 states and the District of Columbia ask for either a percentage or number.
- 15 states and Puerto Rico do not have petition requirements for major party candidates.
Independent and Unaffiliated Candidates
- 22 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands require ONLY a defined number of signatures, ranging from 15 to 3,000.
- 21 states require ONLY a percentage.
- 6 states and the District of Columbia require either a percentage or number.
- Alaska does not have a petition requirement.
In states that require either a percentage or a predetermined number of signatures, the candidate is only required to meet the lower number.
The predetermined number of signatures can be high. For example, in Missouri, the predetermined number is 10,000 signatures, while the percentage requirement is for signatures from registered voters equal to 2% of the votes cast for the office in the last election. Thus, the percentage requirement may be an easier option, depending on the district or office.
In other states, however, the percentage requirement can be high, and the predetermined number much lower. For some independent House candidates in Ohio, for example, the percentage option requires signatures from 5% of registered voters whereas the predetermined number is just 25 signatures. In many districts, 25 signatures is less than 5% of registered voters.
States vary in how they define the percentage of signatures needed on candidate petitions. Thirteen states use a percentage of registered voters in the candidate’s district. For example, Oklahoma requires potential independent candidates for state legislature to file a petition with signatures equal to, or more than, 2% of the number of registered voters in the candidate’s district.
Another approach is to use a percentage of the total number of ballots cast for a certain office in the last election in the candidate’s potential district. Twelve states and Puerto Rico regulate petition signatures this way. Four of these states and Puerto Rico base the requirement on the office for which the candidate is running, and four base the requirement on the office of the governor. Indiana uses the office of secretary of state and Oregon uses the election for president of the United States. Nebraska uses the most recent of either the presidential or gubernatorial election. Wyoming uses the number of votes cast for the most recent congressional election.
Kansas and New Mexico specify that the percentage requirement applies to registered voters from the candidate’s political party, who are also residents of the candidate’s district For example, New Mexico requires that major party candidates for state legislature file a petition with signatures equal to 2% of the number of registered voters that belong to the candidate’s party and reside in the candidate’s potential district.
North Dakota and Washington are notable exceptions to these approaches. North Dakota requires a percentage of signatures from the entire population of the candidate’s potential district—not just registered voters. And Washington requires the petition to contain a number of signatures equaling the dollar amount of the filing fee, which is 1% of the position’s annual salary.
Who May Sign Petitions
Every state reviews submitted signatures and only allows qualifying signatures to count toward the required total, but who may sign a candidate petition varies. Most states require signatures only be collected from people who are registered voters and residents of the district that the candidate hopes to represent. In these states, signatures of people who reside outside of the district are not counted. This information is often verified by requiring the signatory to include an address with the signature.
The table below indicates the petition requirements for each state.