There has been some speculation that a certain political candidate in a particular party might lose a primary election, and then stand as an Independent.

Is that even legally possible?

According to what somebody once told me, there are specific laws to prevent that from happening. At least in some States. Is that correct?

If correct, how far in the process does it have to go before it applies? If a politician has simply announced an intention to stand for a certain party, can he then withdraw and stand as Independent? Does it have to get to the stage where votes are cast?

I'm mainly talking about US Presidential elections, but information about elections at any level of Govt would be welcome.

  • 3
    I’m voting to close this question because the proper answer to this is Politics: Splitting the voter pool is just a bad idea and makes your enemy win.
    – Trish
    Feb 28 at 11:12
  • @Jen, you might like to add that as an answer.
    – Pete
    Feb 28 at 12:16
  • 1
    @Trish, I'm sure it is a bad idea, but is it legally possible? Not all bad ideas are illegal. And it may be political, but it's also a legal question. And please don't close it, the linked answer doesn't address half my question, i.e. when it applies.
    – Pete
    Feb 28 at 12:16
  • Per the other. But because of the timing of the primaries, coupled with ballot access deadlines, it's de facto not allowed to happen in the same election year.
    – hszmv
    Feb 28 at 16:59
  • In at least some jurisdictions it is specifically prohibited. That is a legal issue, and a proper answer should be given. This question should not be closed. Feb 28 at 17:32

3 Answers 3


In a good many states there are so-called "sore loser" laws. These specifically prohibit a person who has been a candidate in a primary election and has lost that election from being eligible to be a candidate in the general election for the same office as an independent or as a candidate for a different party. See the Wikipedia article "Sore loser law" for more detail on such laws.

Some states achieve the same effect by having registrations for the general elections on the same date as for the primary, so that it is not possible for a candidate to know that s/he will lose the primary in time to file for the general election. According to the Wikipedia article, "Only the states of Connecticut, Iowa, and New York have neither a sore loser law nor simultaneous registration deadlines."

However, in many states these "sore loser laws" apply to candidates for the state legislature, and to candidates for Congress, but not to candidates for President of the United States.


There are three ways that a person can be candidate for president: as a candidate in a particular party, as a write-in candidate, and as petitioned independent candidate. Some states don't allow write-in candidates. In fact, Lisa Murkowski won a write-in campaign for Alaska Senator after being defeated in the Republican primary. Write-ins are distinct because the name is not on the ballot.

Each state has particular laws regarding placing independent candidates names on the ballot. The law of Arkansas requires the petition (with sufficient signatures) to be file by 12:00 noon on May 1 that year, also you cannot start collecting signatures more than 90 days before that deadline. March 5 is the date of the next presidential primary in Arkansas: so there is no timing impediment. John Anderson was defeated in his 1980 bid via Republican primaries, so he then registered as an independent, was blocked in Ohio, whereupon SCOTUS ruled in Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 that the registration law (requiring registration months before the primary) was unconstitutional, because it placed too high a burden on petitioning the government.


Typically, not in the same elections in the modern political system. This is due to the timing of events. Ballot access for the general election close prior to the point where most candidates who could due this viably are aware they are going to lose the party nomination. By the time they could make the determination to go rogue, it's too late to do so.

The closest we have is Teddy Roosevelt, who lost the 1908 Republican Primary to William Taft, who would go on to win the Presidency that year. Roosevelt created the Bull-Moose Party in 1912 ran against President Taft's re-election as well as Democrat Nominee Woodrow Wilson. Since we know that Wilson won, all that Roosevelt managed was to remove the Republicans from office (though, considering he was a former mentor to Taft, I'm sure it was a victory for Roosevelt, who seemed to be more concern about getting revenge for the betrayal, this might have been a victory for him.).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .