This is a yes or no question. If the answer is yes, please explain why. If the answer is no, please explain how come.

Note that I'm not asking whether it would be wise, immoral, stupid or "virtually guaranteeing Trump a victory" only if he has the option (so please leave opinion out).


4 Answers 4


Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes and no.

Every state & territory has different rules & procedures governing who can appear on a ballot and how they qualify to be there.

Some, if not most, states have "sore loser" laws that prevent a candidate who lost in a primary election from appearing on the ballot as an independent (or presumably the candidate of a third party).

With respect to third parties specifically, states may require them to be organized and/or declare candidates at the time of the primary, even if they don't actually have a primary election for the party.

So the answer is yes, Sanders might be able to be a third party or independent candidate in some states, and no, he couldn't be one in other states.

  • 15
    According to the link, there are just 3 states without sore loser laws (Connecticut, Iowa and New York). So I would like to suggest to change "Some states" to "Most states". But the article does not say much about the quality of those laws. Perhaps some states have such laws, but they have loopholes which would still allow Sanders to run?
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 15:04
  • 18
    According to the same link there is also precedent that some of these laws do not apply to presidential elections. See ballotpedia.org/…
    – blues
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 16:06
  • 10
    TIL that "Sore Loser" is a technical term. Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 17:24
  • 17
    @blues - It is very likely that a candidate who challenged a "sore loser" law for a Presidential election by citing Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution would prevail. The federal constitution spells out who can run for President, and a state cannot bar an individual from running by setting additional requirements. A ballot access requirement applied to an otherwise eligible citizen based on their participation in a different election would almost certainly be found unconstitutional.
    – tbrookside
    Commented Mar 2, 2020 at 20:33
  • 9
    @Björn Lindqvist: I think "misinformed" is the wrong word to use, since it implies that he actually sought some sort of information. "Displaying his usual ignorance" might be better.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 17:10

In addition to the "sore loser" laws mentioned in the other answer, candidate filing deadlines rarely allow a candidate to do this.

For example, the deadline for filing to run as an independent in Texas was Dec 9, months before the primary elections started. If Sanders tried to switch now, he wouldn't be able to put his name on the ballot. Some other states like New York have deadlines in mid-May so you could still be on some of the states' ballots, but it's hard to imagine a successful run for national office when a non-trivial number of states don't even have you listed on the ballot.

  • 3
    I don't think that Dec 9 date is accurate for presidential elections. See codes.findlaw.com/tx/election-code/elec-sect-192-032.html "The application must be filed with the secretary of state not later than the second Monday in May of the presidential election year" for independent candidates. Of course, "A candidate in a presidential primary election is ineligible to be an independent candidate for president or vice-president of the United States in the succeeding general election" so it doesn't matter anyway.
    – D M
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 12:26
  • But the question asked about third party, not independent. In that case, codes.findlaw.com/tx/election-code/elec-sect-192-031.html applies. The deadline is then "the later of: (A) 5 p.m. of the 71st day before presidential election day; or (B) 5 p.m. of the first business day after the date of final adjournment of the party's national presidential nominating convention".
    – D M
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 12:31
  • 1
    @DM - I'd generally trust the state's official website over findlaw, some of their data can be outdated. I didn't mention running under a third party because you'd have to run in their primary and those deadlines tend to be even earlier (not to mention the other obstacles that keep third parties off of the ballot in many states).
    – bta
    Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 17:43
  • OK, maybe findlaw wasn't the best way to source that. The statute is at statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/EL/htm/EL.192.htm#192.032 and I'd trust the text of the statute even over an official summary.
    – D M
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 1:34
  • @DM The problem is that the pure text of the statute doesn't necessarily take other laws and any court precedent that may exist into account.
    – reirab
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 9:42

Complying to the yes or no condition imposed, the answer is NO. There is no rule, or law blocking Bernie Sanders to run for president independently. Bernie Sanders can run for presidency as an independent.

Sure, he would not be able to get any votes in states with sore loser laws, or in states where the deadline has passed, which would guarantee he would lose even if he wins 100% of the votes in the states that would allow him to run, and 100% in the states that allow write-ins, but he has the option.

As long as there are states that allow write-ins, there will always be this option for literally every natural-born US citizen.

Edit: Please see the comment for a way in which Bernie Sanders could win, even if he does not even run in most states, but only in those that would still allow him to run as an independent.

  • 4
    I mean, as long as we're being purely technical about it, not having access in the the states with sore loser laws doesn't guarantee that a candidate will lose. As long as a third-party or independent candidate gets at least some electoral votes, there is the possibility that no candidate could end up with a majority of electoral votes, in which case the House of Representatives chooses from among the three candidates with the most electoral votes. Now, the chance that the House will choose Bernie Sanders is admittedly approximately 0%, but it could work for a centrist compromise candidate.
    – reirab
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 9:48
  • 3
    @reirab I did not know this. So this means that absolutely technically, it is not impossible for Bernie Sanders to win, even if he decides to run as an independent, and he gets no votes in most of the states (sore loser+passed deadlines). The only thing I can say is that USA is weird.
    – Andrei
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 9:54

Adding a third datapoint the other answers didn't mention, separate from filing deadlines, many states have a very high bar to clear for third party candidates getting onto the ballot.

In my own Oklahoma, if you aren't running under a party that got a high percentage in the last quadrennial election, you have to gather what works out to about 36,000 signatures, and pay a filing fee of $35,000. The electronically-read ballot does not allow write-ins.

Oklahoma is one of the tougher states, but its far from alone in being tough. Its rare that a 4th party candidate (excluding the Libertarians here), gets themselves on the ballot in all 50 states. Its of course tough to run a serious campaign if large amounts of voters have no way to vote for you.


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