Wednesday, April 3, 2013

FDA Talking Points Series: 0.5 Percent Rule

The bar chart shows overall the deficiencies in the Canadian electoral system (as of 2013) in the areas of media election content and candidates and parties. These deficiencies create uncompetitive electoral practices which favor large, established parties over new and small parties.
The Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) takes the position that barriers of entry to the full privileges of a registered candidate and party are necessary in order to screen out less serious candidates and parties, and candidates and parties with minimal popular support. In addition, the FDA takes the position that these barriers are effective and simple, as opposed to applying barriers to every relevant piece of legislation.

To be consistent with a free and democratic society, the FDA believes that no candidate and party should be denied within extremes basic registration. Also, the FDA believes that any threshold to full privileges of candidate and party registration should be based exclusively on popular support, barring nominal payment to cover the costs of registration. 

The FDA believes that in determining a reasonable threshold of popular support for candidates and parties, a balance needs to be attained between too weak of a threshold which would let in less serious and unpopular candidates and parties, and too strong of a threshold which would keep out serious and relatively popular candidates and parties. In its research of electoral systems and calculations of different thresholds, the FDA believes that 0.5 percent of proven electoral support is a reasonable threshold for candidates and parties. To illustrate,

Table 1

Thresholds for Full Privileges
Number of Popular Support (Votes) Required out of 100,000 total electorate
Number of Popular Support (Votes) Required out of 1,000,000 total electorate
Number of Popular Support (Votes) Required out of 10,000,000 total electorate

The threshold to candidate and party registration has to factor in new candidates and new and small parties.

If we look at the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election, with a threshold of 0.5 percent only three parties Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian Parties would have full party privileges. (However, if the 0.5 percent threshold were in force, it is conceivable that other parties may reach the 0.5 percent such as the Green Party and Gill Stein who received 0.39 percent of the popular vote in the 2012 election.)

If we look at the 2011 Canadian General Election, only 5 five parties would have access to full party privileges. It is conceivable that if the 0.5 percent threshold was in force, it may have motivated the Christian Heritage Party to attain the 0.5 percent popular threshold. In 2011 the Christian Heritage Party received 0.49 percent of the popular vote.

If the threshold is 1.0 percent or higher, then new and small parties would have a greater barrier of entry to full party privileges such media access and public subsidies etc. 

Threshold Comparisons


There are minimal barriers to entry for candidates and parties. According to the Elections Law, the only requirements to register a party are as follows:

In order to register as a party the party must have 250 party members, a nominal barrier of entry. There is no financial requirement beyond the $1,000 per candidate. There are 308 seats in the Canadian parliament, and therefore, if a party wants to field candidates in every district, it would have to spend $308,000 (FDA Electoral Fairness Report on Canada, 2013).

However, there are a number barriers to candidates and parties within the Canadian system. For example, the Canadian federal electoral system offers a 50 percent refund of election expenses for registered parties that received either 2 percent of the popular vote or 5 percent of the valid votes cast in the electoral districts of the candidates endorsed by the parties.

If the popular vote total is 14,720,580 (like in the 2011 federal election) then 294,411 votes are required to receive a 50 percent refund.
If the popular vote total in electoral districts is 100,000 on average, then 5,000 votes are required per district of the candidates endorsed by the parties.


In contrast to Canada, Venezuela has a reasonably high barrier to entry for parties based on popular support, and minimal barriers within the system. For example, regional and national parties must have popular support of not less than 0.5 percent of the population enrolled in the electoral registry of the respective territorial area.

Renewal of national party registration require proof of 0.5 percent popular support, or at least 1 percent of votes cast in previous election.

However, within the electoral system, the election authority requires equal media access to all registered candidates and parties (Election Law, Principles and Rights, Article 72(10)).

In addition, public and private media election coverage will be complete and balanced without distorting the reality of the campaign. The media must observe “rigorous” balance in terms of space and time devoted to information on registered candidates and parties (Election Law, Article 81).

United States

Similar to Canada, there are minimal barriers to entry for parties. However, within the system, there are significant barriers. For example, the registration of parties is indirectly connected to the registration of candidates. No candidates means no party. Therefore, the $5,000 threshold for registration of candidates indirectly applies to parties. Consequently, for 10 candidates, there is a registration fee of $50,000. Outside of this registration requirement and basic disclosures, there are no other requirements.

Within the U.S. system, there is minimal regulation of private media election coverage, and therefore, registered parties may be at a disadvantage from narrow and imbalanced media election coverage. The 2012 FDA Media Study on the U.S. Presidential Election showed that third-party presidential candidates, for example, were at a distinct disadvantage, receiving in total only 1.20 percent of the total media coverage in the last 32 days of the presidential election.

Further, as example, voter thresholds are applied to public funds for candidates and parties. These thresholds favor larger and more popular registered parties and their candidates.

To illustrate funds in the Presidential Election Campaign Fund are divided up in three ways:

(1) Primary matching payments are based on the government matching individual contributions to a candidate, and only the first $250 of a contribution is matchable. To be eligible for matching, a candidate needs to raise more than $5,000 in each of 20 different states.

(2) General election grants are for Republican and Democratic candidates who win their parties' nomination. The candidates are eligible to receive $20 million, adjusted for cost-living-adjustment to cover campaign expenses. In 2008, candidates could receive $84.1 million. Third party candidates are eligible to receive a percentage of this grant if the candidates receive at least 5 percent of the popular vote. (The 2008 expenditure limit in 2008 was $88.45 million.)

(3) Party convention grants are for major political parties for their national Presidential nominating convention. The parties are eligible to receive $4 million, adjusted for inflation. In 2008, the major parties received $16.82 million. Third parties are eligible for the grant if they received at least 5 percent of vote in the previous Presidential election. The Federal Election Commission defines a majority party as 25% or more of the total popular votes in the previous election; minority party as between 5% or more and less than 25% of the total popular vote in the previous election; new party as a party which did not participate in the previous election (Federal Election Commission, Presidential Election Fund, 2012).

If the popular vote total is 12,074,873 (like in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election), then about 3,018,718 votes are required to be classified as a major party. Third-parties need 603,743 votes to be eligible for general election grants. Minority parties need at least 603,743 votes to less than 3,018,718 votes.


Elections Act. (2000). May 31, 2000. Elections Canada. Retrieved from

FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on the United States. (2012). Foundation for Democratic Advancement. Retrieved from

FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on Venezuela. (2012). Foundation for Democratic Advancement. Retrieved from

FDA Global Electoral Fairness Report on Canada. (2013) Foundation for Democratic Advancement. Retrieved from

FDA Media Study of the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election. (2012). Foundation for Democratic Advancement. Retrieved from

Presidential Election Campaign Fund. (2012). Federal Election Commission. Retrieved from:

Election Law. (2012). National Electoral Council. Retrieved from

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Executive Director Foundation for Democratic Advancement

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