MILLERSBURG — To forge what he sees as a middle path in politics, the Rev. Jimmy Clifton reached back over 150 years to a short-lived anti-slavery party that counted among its members prominent poets, educators and congressmen.
The pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church founded the American Free Soil Party in 2014 and stands as its first candidate as he seeks a town council position in Millersburg. The original party existed between 1848 and 1854, long enough to field two presidential candidates, who both ran on the platform of "Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men."
"I created the American Free Soil Party to offer the American people a common sense, centrist party void of extreme positions, vanity candidates and uncivil politics," Clifton said. "The party does not tolerate personal attacks on opponents and will rescind membership of any candidate who engages in the politics of personal destruction. We believe in cooperation and seeking the good of all. We are not into division, hate speech or 'gotcha politics.'"
Clifton is one of two third-party candidates in Elkhart County's municipal elections this year, as he runs against Republican Austin Turner in Millersburg's 2nd Ward. Rafael Correa is running as an Independent for the 3rd District Common Council seat in Goshen, against Democrat Jennifer Shell and Republican Matt Schrock.
Clifton said his party affiliation has never come up in conversations with voters and the purpose of his candidacy isn't to promote the American Free Soil Party. The 10-year resident of Millersburg said he's happy with the response he's gotten from people.
"This campaign is about the people of Millersburg and how to best serve them as they seek solutions to the multifaceted problems they deal with on a daily basis, problems that affect their families, their property and their livelihood," he said. "The folks of Millersburg want a local government that responds to them in a positive, solution-oriented manner. I hope to be able to deliver that."
Clifton left the Libertarian Party when he founded Free Soil. He said he agreed with most of the positions of the party, such as limited taxes, property rights, Second Amendment rights and a non-interventionist foreign policy, but it still had a number of positions that he couldn't endorse.
Correa, who's never been affiliated with a party, chose to run as a third-party candidate for similar reasons. He said he heard enough people in his neighborhood talking about the failings of both Republicans and Democrats that he decided to do something about it.
"I thought as an Independent, I'll look at both views," he said. "I'll take the good views from Democrats, the good views from Republicans, and put them together and get something done."
There are things that appeal to him from both parties, such as the family values that Republicans often espouse and the immigration policies that Democrats tend to back. He hopes to attract votes from people who hold the same views, regardless of party affiliation, and said his main focus will be district over party.
It's a position that other candidates have mixed feelings about, according to Correa. He said that while he's been congratulated by candidates for choosing to run, they also express disappointment that he didn't run for their party.
"They say, 'I'm happy you're running, I'm just not happy you're taking votes away from our party,'" he said. "There have been a couple people who shot me down right away, because I'm Independent and they're a Republican or they're a Democrat ... but most people have been open to what I have to say."
Getting on the ballot as an independent candidate requires turning in a signed petition by August, said Chris Anderson, Elkhart County clerk of the Circuit Court. The number of signatures needed is 2 percent of the number of votes cast in the last Indiana secretary of state race, from among the voters who would be voting for the independent candidate, he said.
For Correa, that meant he needed 27 signatures from people in Goshen's 3rd District, while Clifton needed 12 signatures from residents of Millersburg Ward 2, according to Anderson. Correa turned in 33 valid signatures and Clifton turned in 17.
It's the same rule to get on the state-level ballot. Anderson said local election officials will check the signatures but the paperwork is filed in Indianapolis.
Figuring out how many signatures a third-party candidate needs is a moving target that election officials have to find every year, he said. It's determined by how many voters are in the candidate's county, local or state-level district, depending on what office they're running for, and how many votes were cast in the most recent Indiana secretary of state race.
"It's an algebra problem we have to contend with," he said. "Why it's the secretary of state, I have no idea."