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What Are “Sore Loser” Laws, and Do They Polarize Our Politics?

by Countable | 7.26.18

The story

Ex-coal CEO Don Blankenship’s effort to run as a third-party candidate in the West Virginia Senate race after losing his bid for the GOP nomination is likely to spark a fierce legal battle.

Why? Because of something called a “sore loser” law.


Generally speaking, a sore loser law prevents candidates who lost a primary election from taking advantage of later filing deadlines to run on a third-party ticket.

In most states that have them, these laws don’t apply to presidential candidates. Michigan’s is one of the few that does, and it prevented Gary Johnson from joining the presidential ballot as a Libertarian in 2012.

Many states accomplish the same requirement by having simultaneous registration dates for the primary and the general election.

Only the states of Connecticut, Iowa, New York, and Vermont have neither a sore-loser law nor simultaneous registration deadlines.

Purpose and impact

Supporters of sore loser laws say they keep politicians in check by limiting the steps they can take to get elected.

Detractors, however, say that sore loser laws are designed to foster major-party rule and prevent dissent.

Studies have also shown that the laws can also have the effect of forcing major-party candidates into extreme positions. According to one study on the subject:

“Sore loser laws bring more ideologically extreme candidates into the party nomination process rather than allowing them to run separately in the general election, thus encouraging primary candidates to adopt more extreme positions to win nomination... Without a sore loser law in place, the incumbent faces less pressure to associate himself with extreme positions.”

Other studies reflect similar findings.

In a 2014 New York Times Op-Ed, Mickey Edwards, vice president at the Aspen Institute and former Oklahoma Republican representative, wrote:

“These laws deprive voters of a full array of choices. They are arguably even more insidious than partisan redistricting, which affects House races but not Senate ones.”

Upcoming challenges

Blankenship is not the only one likely to challenge sore loser laws in court. In June, North Carolina passed a retroactive sore loser law, enabling it to remove Constitution Party candidates from the ballot. The party plans legal action in that case, as well.

What do you think?

Should sore loser laws remain in place? Why or why not? Hit Take Action to tell your reps what you think, then share your thoughts below.

—Sara E. Murphy

(Photo Credit: / teddyandmia)


Written by Countable

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