The quest for five percent: The Green Party’s fight for federal funding

By James Bunting

Although many members of the Arizona Green Party were not happy with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, some see the results as an opportunity to attract Americans to the party’s progressive ideology.

“At the very least, this election woke up a lot of people, including progressive underdogs that are going to run for office in the future,” said Green Party member Zaq Stavano on election night, after it became clear Donald Trump would become president-elect.

Later that night, Stavano posted to Facebook: “We did well, just need to wait for our seeds to grow.”

The Green Party had a simple goal this election cycle: secure five percent of the popular vote. Although they did not meet their goal this election, they made gains in party outreach.

Green Party votes were the highest they’d been since the 2000 election when Ralph Nader earned 2.7 percent of the vote. This year, the party secured more than 1.2 million votes nationally, or about one percent of ballots cast, up from 469,501 in 2012 and 161,603 votes in 2008.

In Arizona, the number of Green Party votes were about four times as high as they were in the 2012 presidential election, coming in at 34,345 votes for Jill Stein.


**Source: The Associated Press as of Nov. 10 *Source: Federal Election Commission

Some downticket Greens did better than before: State Senate candidate Angel Torres received 18.9 percent of the vote, compared to when he ran for state representative in 2012 when he earned 5.3 percent of the vote. Mark Salazar, candidate for U.S. House, received 31.4 percent of the vote, compared to 2012 when he only earned 1.9 percent of the vote.

The party utilized a small group of dedicated volunteers, who tried to capitalize on a record level of dissatisfaction with the two, major party candidates.

At First Friday in October, a dozen of the Green Party volunteers stood on a street corner in busy downtown Phoenix. Underneath the cover of their makeshift booth, they handed out buttons and shirts imprinted with images of the smiling Stein. Many pedestrians kept walking. A few stayed and chatted, but ultimately declined the free apparel.

“You have more choices than you think,” one of the green-shirted volunteers said as more people walk by their booth. Another holds an illuminated fluorescent sign that simply reads, “Jill.”


Green Party volunteer Elaine Mercado hands out Green Party literature and campaigning material to pedestrians in downtown Phoenix during the October First Friday.

The Green Party in America began in 1984, and was largely based on the German Green Party and its four pillars: ecology, social justice, grassroots democracy and non-violence. The Arizona Green Party was founded in May 1990, and it stands by the 10 key values of the Green Party:

  • Grassroots Democracy
  • Social Justice And Equal Opportunity
  • Ecological Wisdom
  • Non-Violence
  • Decentralization
  • Community-Based Economics
  • Feminism And Gender Equity
  • Respect For Diversity
  • Personal And Global Responsibility
  • Future Focus And Sustainability

“It’s all about synergy,” volunteer Melodi Brown said at a Green Party members meeting. “We get people to register Green Party, and we help our downstream candidates. If we all work hard, we can really get to that five percent threshold.”

Five percent was the magic number: At five percent of the popular vote, the Green Party would have been considered a “minor party” by the federal government, and would be eligible to receive public funding. Federal funding could mean anything from 10 million to 20 million dollars, according to the Federal Election Commision. The funding could have been used for the 2020 presidential campaign.

“Minor party candidates and new party candidates may become eligible for partial public funding of their general election campaigns. … The amount of public funding to which a minor party candidate is entitled is based on the ratio of the party’s popular vote in the preceding Presidential election to the average popular vote of the two major party candidates in that election. A new party candidate receives partial public funding after the election if he/she receives 5 percent or more of the vote. The entitlement is based on the ratio of the new party candidate’s popular vote in the current election to the average popular vote of the two major party candidates in the election.” – Excerpt from the Federal Election Commissions brochure on public funding.

“It would help us with hiring full time staff for the Green Party of the United States,” said Torres, who is also co-chair of the state party. “It would help many of our state Green Parties get up and rolling. We have a lot of locations around the country where there really isn’t a functioning Green Party. For example, Nevada just came up short as far as having ballot status for the Green.”

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 3.44.03 PM.png

Source: Arizona Secretary of State


As daunting as the task might seem, the possibility of federal money motivated a lot of Green Party members, providing what they thought would be a more achievable goal than winning the presidency.

How are we going to accomplish so much with a small army in just a couple of months? How are we going to hit that five percent? Fortunately, many of us had experience in the Bernie (Sanders) campaign. We kind of wanted to replicate some of that dynamic,” Brown said at the Arizona Green Party meeting leading up to Election Day.


The Arizona Green Party discusses local campaigns and strategies leading up to Election Day during its October meeting at the Mesquite Library.

 The state party’s strategy has been to engage millennials and be at every event possible.

A “personal focus for me is going to a lot of the events, setting up booths and getting signatures. Getting new Greens registered,” Green Party volunteer Cole Shores said. “That’s the way we are really going to grow the party. Maybe not this year, but by 2020 or 2024, we will be a force to be reckoned with.”

Volunteer Brandon Smith had that in mind when he created the Pokemon for Jill Facebook group. The idea was to canvas at Pokestops, points of interest in Niantic’s GPS viral video game Pokemon Go.

“It’s kind of our effort to reach out more to millennials. Younger people are playing that Pokemon game on their phone and going to all these different public places,” Smith said. “We’ve got up Pokemon for Jill flyers that people can print out and put up a Pokestops. At First Friday here in Downtown Phoenix we set up a table at a Pokestop.”

This is just one of many ways the Greens utilized their team of about a dozen volunteers. “We’ve been to a couple First Fridays, Second Fridays in Mesa, too. We’re working the (Arizona State Fair). We were at the Cannabis Festival,” said Joan Powers, Green volunteer and administrator of the Arizonans for Jill Stein Facebook group, which has 720 members.

Although voting for Stein is important for Greens, it’s about growing the local party, something that their vote for “Jill” can help accomplish.

The best place for us to recruit are places where we have relationships. In your unions, neighborhoods, your classrooms, whatever community you live in. I want to focus on recruiting party members. I want to get people already in the party active,” Torres said, addressing fellow Greens at an October gathering.

At the end of the day, that’s what a vote for Stein meant for many Green Party members. It was not a “wasted” vote. It was a vote for the future of their party and for establishing a place disenfranchised progressive voters could have their voice heard.

Some Green Party members are less interested in using their vote to grow the party and more interested in voting consistently with their values. And those who vote Green in protest still hold many of the same concerns as other Green Party members, like the environment, corporate politics, moral character and political corruption. We asked Green Party members to leave us a voicemail about why they voted Green this election.  Here’s what some had to say: 

But what’s next for the Greens? How will they continue to build momentum after emotions from the election die down?

“More than ever, we need to engage those who are frustrated and build a network for us to access them through,” said Phil Shea, Green Party member and former state secretary of the Arizona Green Party.

“I think this election has uncovered a lot of the ugliness in our two-party system. Neither party is really interested in the issues facing our country,“ Shea said. “We’re the small guy trying to throw stones at the big citadel of corporate politics. We need to build infrastructure to be successful, infrastructure that will not only draw the attention of those who are frustrated with the Republican and Democratic parties, but also gives them hope that they can participate in the process, and succeed in the process by voting their conscience.”