BOSTON — The state’s Libertarians are expected to regain their major party status after placing second in a statewide race in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

State election law requires third parties get 3% of the vote in a statewide race to be recognized and have their candidates listed on the next ballot.

In the state treasurer’s race, Libertarian candidate Cristina Crawford picked up nearly 23% of the vote — more than 508,000 votes — in a two-way race against incumbent Treasurer Deb Goldberg, a Democrat who won a third term. There was no Republican candidate in the race.

Libertarian leaders say the strong results mean they will once again be recognized by the Secretary of State’s office as a major political party, along with Democrats and Republicans, and suggest the support Crawford received means voter dissatisfaction is driving more people to the third parties.

“It’s a historic opportunity,” said Peter Everett, Crawford’s husband and at-large state committee member of the Libertarian Association of Massachusetts. “Our candidate got more than a half million voters to color in the Libertarian oval on Tuesday’s ballot, and that means something.”

Libertarians also fielded candidates in races for governor, lieutenant governor and auditor in Tuesday’s elections. But none of them hit the 3% threshold.

Everett, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor, said the party now needs to begin recruiting more members to serve on its state committee, building membership and raising money to support candidates in the next election cycle.

Party politics

Complicating those efforts is a split between two rival factions of the state party amid disagreements over the national party’s right-shifting political platform.

In January, a bloc of the state party staged a rebellion by voting to expel nearly 50 members of the party’s executive committee who petitioned for a special convention to pick new party leadership ahead of November’s elections.

The dispute escalated in June when one faction — the Libertarian Association of Massachusetts — voted to “disaffiliate” from the National Libertarian Committee and its recognized state affiliate, which now calls itself the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts.

The split created two Libertarian parties in Massachusetts, each claiming to represent the state’s third-largest political party.

None of the candidates who ran on Tuesday, including Crawford, were endorsed by the nationally affiliated faction of the party.

“There’s only one party, and it’s us,” said Thomas Eddlem, chairman of the newly formed Libertarian Party of Massachusetts. “We’ll have major party status but it’s really not going to make a difference in any race because Massachusetts is an open primary state, so anyone can run as a Libertarian.”

The divisions also foreshadow a potential fight between the two factions ahead of the 2024 elections if disagreements over the national party’s pick for a presidential candidate arise.

“The federal party can do whatever it wants, but the Libertarian Association of Massachusetts has been representing the state’s Libertarians for decades,” Everett said. “We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

Despite that, Everett says he hopes that the major party designation will help bring the two rival factions together to further the interests of the party, and spread its message of civil rights, economic liberty and limited government.

Growing membership

Independent parties come and go in Massachusetts in a kind of seesaw existence, with challengers that seldom gain traction despite the fact that more than half of the state’s 4.8 million voters are political independents not registered as Democrats, Republicans or anything else.

The Libertarian party regained its party status after the 2016 election when its presidential ticket — which included former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Bill Weld as a vice presidential nominee — won 4.2% of the vote in the state against Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

But the party lost its official designation after the 2020 elections when Libertarian candidates finished with just under 1.2% of the vote.

Driven by voter dissatisfaction with the two major parties, the state’s Libertarians have seen a surge in numbers in recent years. The Libertarian Party of Massachusetts had 19,097 members as of October 2020 — a more than 130% increase from 2017 when it last had a major party status.

The Green-Rainbow Party was also hoping to regain party recognition in Tuesday’s elections with candidates in the secretary of state and auditor’s races.

But neither of the candidate appears to have reached the 3% threshold, according to preliminary election results.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhinews.com.

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