Is Minnesota tired of choosing between Democrats and Republicans?

What if you didn't have to pick red or blue next time you voted?

What if you didn't have to pick red or blue next time you voted? Associated Press

It’s hard to get anywhere as a third party in Minnesota.

Our state puts huge hurdles in front of political parties looking to attain major party status. Non-major political parties must circulate petitions and collect hundreds of thousands of signatures -- 5 percent of the vote – in order to appear on the ballot next to their Democratic and Republican counterparts for the next two election cycles. Our neighbors, Iowa and Wisconsin, only require 1 or 2 percent of voters to be on board.

Minnesotans also have way less time on average -- just two weeks -- to get the signatures they need. Most states give third parties two or three months to circulate their petitions.

“Minnesota has been more restrictive than many states in allowing candidates outside the two major political parties onto the ballot,” Minnesota Republican Senator Scott Jensen says. “And I don’t think most people know that.”

That’s why Jensen and his Democratic colleague in the house, Steve Elkins, are filing what they’re calling a “ballot access inclusiveness bill.” It’s meant to level the playing field for minor, “alternative” parties, by lowering the signature requirements -- from something like 130,000 to 10,000 or 20,000 -- and extending the time allotted to gain them.

It’s also supposed to get rid of other nitpicky rules Jensen sees as “silly” hoops for candidates to jump through -- like filing your petition on the right size of paper.

The rigmarole might be surprising to some, because in recent history especially, Minnesotans have loved their third-party options. Consider economic populist Ross Perot, who got nearly 24 percent of Minnesota’s votes when he ran for president, as opposed to 19 percent nationwide. And lest we forget, the Reform Party’s Jesse “The Body” Ventura won the governor’s seat in 1998.

Even the 2018 midterms were a third-party victory of sorts -- specifically for the Legal Marijuana Now party and the Legalize Cannabis party. Both of them met the state’s 5 percent threshold to get on the ballot, and their single platform issue -- legalizing recreational marijuana -- is making waves in the state’s majority-Democrat House.

“I think it’s proven, if you look at the November election, that Minnesota wants more choice on the ballot,” Libertarian Party of Minnesota Chair Chris Holbrook says. He’ll be at a press conference introducing the bill Thursday afternoon, along with representatives from the state’s other “alternative” parties: the Green Party, the Independence Party, and both legal marijuana parties.

A lot of voters, he says, are tired of the Democrat-Republican binary. There are people out there who don’t believe either party best represents them, and they’re hungry for more choices.

All the same, Holbrook has doubts that this bill will pass. Its biggest opponents, he says, are the already established politicians who are either “hardline right” or “hardline left,” who would rather keep the ballot exclusively red and blue.

“A lot of those systems were set up by those people in the first place,” he says. “There’s going to be some pushback -- especially on the far right -- about these issues.” But at least, he says, it probably has a better shot this year than legal marijuana.

Meanwhile, Senator Jensen thinks the time is right to add more “inclusiveness” to our state’s elections, and that he’s just the one to help these third parties do it. He’s always been kind of a “disruptive” force in the legislature, he says -- willing to be an independent voice against party lines and lobbyists.

In his words: “I don’t really give a damn if this is the way it’s always been done.”