Think the field of well-known presidential candidates is unusually crowded this year? That’s not the half of it.
True, the lineup of leading Democratic hopefuls stands at a whopping 21 candidates and at least one prominent Republican — former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld — who have announced their challenge to incumbent President Donald Trump. But that’s just the tip of the political iceberg.
Believing that it’s possible for anyone to rise from obscurity to running the Free World, a swelling number of unknown Americans are filing the simple paperwork required to toss a hat into the ring to be the next president of the United States.
Unfortunately for most of them, the only way they’ll ever get to be known outside their limited circle of friends and family would be for hard-core political junkies to track them down on the Federal Election Commission’s website.
Hobbled by the lack of a national profile or the big bucks required to mount a successful presidential run, the unknown candidates are destined to lurk only in the footnotes buried deep in federal campaign documents.
According to Ballotpedia, a website that tracks the daily entry of FEC records, of the 713 candidates who had filed by Friday, 241 filed as Democrats, 89 as Republicans, 25 as Libertarians and 14 as Green candidates. A great many others self-identified as nonpartisan, independent, or listed no party affiliation.
To declare as a presidential candidate, anyone can complete and sign an FEC Form 2, a single-page statement of candidacy. Once the FEC receives that document either online or in the mail, it assigns the applicant an identification number and post their name on the commission’s website. If a candidate expects to raise and spend more than $5,000 to promote their campaign, then an additional FEC Form 1, declaring a campaign finance committee, must be completed within 15 days of collecting the money.
Voila! That’s all it takes to be recognized by the federal government as an official presidential candidate.
Of course, there’s a lot more involved to getting elected than filing paperwork, and not just anyone is eligible to become president. The Constitution sets three requirements for the presidency: a candidate must be at least 35 years old, a U.S. resident for 14 years prior to election, and a natural-born citizen.
There’s also the significant hurdle of getting on the ballot, which varies from state to state and is far more complicated for non-major party hopefuls than it is for the major parties which have a system of state primaries and national conventions to pick a nominee. But that gets into the weeds of the electoral system, something neither the FEC nor vast majority of those filing to run are concerned about.
“The rules for filing to run for president are simple,” Miles Martin, a spokesman at the FEC, said in an interview. “We don’t qualify anyone or check to see if they meet the requirements to hold office. We simply accept the filing and make it public.”
As Election Day approaches, more presidential aspirants are expected to submit paperwork since there’s no filing fee or official cutoff date for prospective White House contenders. In the 2016 presidential cycle, 1,775 people filed the paperwork and declared themselves candidates for president.
Based on a cursory survey of the FEC list, the range of personalities bold enough to seek the White House is as vast and as varied as humanity itself. There are obvious gadflies and crackpots, such as someone who filed under the name of Voice Over Pete, a member of the heretofore unknown Ace Party. Another contender, Seven the Dog, is running as a nonpartisan candidate and, if somehow elected would presumably govern as a human being, not a canine. The titillatingly provocative, yet environmentally correct Sexy Vegan, meanwhile, has filed to run as an Independent.
In a February analysis of FEC filings, which at the time showed approximately 100 candidates, the Center for Responsive Politics listed candidates with comically curious names such as the “Black Label Empire (House of Lords) Darth Cyber Units,” — a campaign committee to elect Antonio McGee of Oklahoma City. (A recorded message associated with the phone number listed on the FEC form said the number was “currently suspended.”)
But there are also are sober and serious candidates, believe it or not, such as Libertarian Kim Ruff, a project manager for a suburban Phoenix, Arizona, manufacturing firm, who admitted she doesn’t have a real chance of winning even though she’s mounting a nationwide campaign.