Tennessee defines a political party as “at least one of whose candidates for an office to be elected by voters of the entire state has received a number of votes equal to at least 5% of the total number of votes cast for gubernatorial candidates in the most recent election of governor.”
Tennessee, like most states, elects its governors in mid-term years. In 2014, the total number of votes cast for Governor was 1,353,728. Five percent of that number is 67,687 votes. Gary Johnson last month polled over 70,000 votes in Tennessee. His ballot label was “independent.”
There is no real precedent as to whether a Tennessee candidate with the independent label, who polls the needed number of votes, can use that vote to qualify his or her party, if it wasn’t already ballot-qualified. Tennessee didn’t allow independent presidential candidates until 1976. Since then, no independent candidate for president who was the nominee of a political party has met that percentage, except for Ross Perot in 1996, and now Gary Johnson this year. After the November 1996 election, the Reform Party of Tennessee did not ask the state to recognize it as a qualified party, so there is no past ruling or precedent. The Tennessee Libertarian Party may ask the state for a ruling.