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Can a U.S. presidential candidate successfully run for national office without being on the ballot in one or more states? For example, recently some U.S. states have adopted requirements for presidential candidates' disclosure of tax returns. If a presidential candidate did not want to comply with that requirement, they would not appear on the ballot in that state. Assuming the candidate won the electoral college by virtue of the other states, is there any reason they would not become the president-elect?

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    I don’t understand the question. Could you please edit it to clarify? – Stormblessed Jul 30 at 23:02
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    Not if you don't tell me what's unclear, no, I can't. – user27503 Jul 30 at 23:08
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    Well the candidate wouldn’t be choosing not to run — the state would kick them off of the ballot. So this question is confusing. I’m not sure what you mean to say in it. – Stormblessed Jul 30 at 23:12
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    On a somewhat related note, here’s a pretty good article about what the bill does exactly. – Stormblessed Jul 30 at 23:21
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    Lincoln actually didn't even appear on the ballot in several southern states when he ran for president. But I suppose it was more that he was cut-out than that he didn't want to be included... – Baard Kopperud Jul 31 at 0:53
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Can a U.S. presidential candidate successfully run for national office without being on the ballot in one or more states?

Yes, they can.

In the 2016 presidential election, many minor candidates were not on the ballot in all states. 31 people were on the ballot in at least one state, of which only three appeared on all ballots (Those three are the Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian party candidates).

For example, the Green Party candidate had, according to Wikipedia:

Ballot access to 480 electoral votes (522 with write-in) [out of 538]:

  • As write-in: Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina
  • Ballot access lawsuit pending: Oklahoma
  • No ballot access: Nevada, South Dakota

So it's not a requirement to be on all ballots to participate as a candidate.


Of course, being elected requires acquiring a majority of the Electoral Votes. This will be harder if you don't fight for every electoral vote. Giving up on some electoral votes while all it takes is some locals gathering some signatures and the party paying a "small" amount of money, doesn't seem wise.

On the other hand, there are states that are so overwhelmingly in favor of one party, that the other party might as well not be on the ballot. However, ignoring one's voters in a full state might not be taken well by one's potential voters in other states. And you need to not alienate those voters in swing states.

And as @Delioth pointed out in comments, there are many elections on the same day in the USA. Even though the presidential candidate might not win this state, his or her name still draws additional voters to the ballot box. Same party candidates for other elections might benefit from the additional votes cast by those additional voters.

Therefore in practice, I expect the major candidates to be on the ballot in all states. But it's not a legal requirement.

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    If you're already adding the addendum about ignoring voters in one state, it may be worth also noting that a presidential candidate not showing up on the ballot may discourage a party's voters to come vote at all in that state - which can have serious impact on representatives and senators. – Delioth Jul 31 at 14:30
  • @Delioth Good point, thank you. I'll add something about it when I get home. – Sjoerd Jul 31 at 14:42
  • This question is obviously about California. The CA Republican Party is, at best, on life support. They failed to make it to the general election in both of the most recent US Senate elections, were in danger of the same in the gubernatorial, and lost half their US House seats in 2018. Not having Trump on the ballot in 2020 would really hurt. All that said, the actual law as written currently only applies to primaries, so it's probably moot unless another candidate tries to "pull a Trump" and not release. – Kevin Aug 3 at 3:54

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