Behind California’s Green Party Presidential Primary

Jack Lucas
14 min readMar 5, 2024


Credit: Drew Angerer

Author’s Note: This article was originally completed on February 25. At that time, this writer, on top of being registered with the Green Party of California (GPCA), had regularly donated to the party, most recently on December 8, 2023. They had also donated to Jill Stein’s last campaign and on December 5 signed her petition to qualify for formal recognition of her current run from the national Green Party’s Presidential Campaign Support Committee, or PCSC. Since February 25, they have voted for, donated to, and signed up to volunteer for Stein. They have also donated to the GPCA again.

Jill Stein is the sole candidate on California’s presidential primary ballot for the Green Party. This marks the smallest Green presidential primary in the state with someone on the ballot since 1996, when Ralph Nader faced no rivals. However, three people have successfully filed as write-in contenders, leading to a more contested race than that cycle. (In 2020, there were five listed competitors plus a write-in campaigner, five in 2016, three in 2012, seven in 2008, four in 2004, and two in 2000 in addition to a write-in contender. While the GPCA was ballot-certified in the state by the time of the 1992 primary election, no member ran for president that year.)

The website for the Green Party of the United States (GPUS) names six campaigners for the nomination, Stein included. (Others have filed with the Federal Election Commission, or FEC, to compete.) So why are they all not on California’s ballot? Communicating through email and Zoom, Greg Jan, a GPCA member active in the Candidates Committee (CC) — now its only openly identified participant, though Jan said another member named Jared Laiti sits on it — and Tarik Kanaana, a coordinator for their GPUS Delegation, confirmed four contenders besides Stein reached out to the GPCA with intent to get on the ballot: Daví, Jasmine Sherman, Jorge Zavala, and Randy Toler. These four failed to make it. When they were contacted for comment on their absence, responses from three of them directed attention to a controversy over the role the party played in determining who would get on the ballot.

Primary Ballot Access

Understanding the disagreements other Green candidates have with their position in the California race begins with understanding the options they had for appearing on the primary ballot. The Secretary of State (SOS) there, through a form on their website, lays out two courses that were open to competitors.

One was to petition GPCA members. Petitioners acting on behalf of a campaign needed to obtain signatures from 1% of Greens enrolled as of 154 days before the primary. The signature gathering window lasted from November 6 through December 15.

The second option was to meet one of five criteria the SOS set for a “generally advocated for or recognized candidate,” in addition to having set up a campaign committee with the FEC, by November 28. First, they could have proven eligibility for federal primary season matching funds, as explained by FEC Public Affairs Specialist Christopher Berg for this article. Next, they could have offered evidence they partook in a national debate with two or more people, “publicly available for viewing,” put on by a ballot-certified party, in or out of the state, or by a national committee of an FEC-registered party. Third, they could have established they were on another state’s primary or caucus ballot for a certified party or, fourth, that they were contesting a caucus for a state party on the ballot. Fifth, if they or a “qualified political party” were managing an online campaign website or page and the GPCA wrote a request for ballot access to the SOS, they could have gotten on. Jan declared Stein and the other four contenders lobbied for a written request.

Through their “Rules and Procedures,” the GPCA has crafted a method for referring candidates to the SOS for a spot on their presidential primary ballot; the language in the document terms this a “recommendation”. Competitors are to be a Green or independent in their state, and enrolled as such if they can express partisan affiliation as part of their registration, and compose an application for a referral to the GPCA’s Liaison to the SOS, which is Laiti. The application, or request, then has eight components to cover. The liaison validates each submission afterward. Following the liaison’s confirmation, the CC and the GPUS Delegation vote on which eligible campaigners to pass on to the party’s state convention known as the General Assembly (GA), with hopefuls needing approval from just one body in order to go forward. (It should be noted Jan participates in the GPUS Delegation and the CC. Kanaana was not positive if Jan voted in both groups, though he was able to.) At the end stage, delegates to the GA choose whom the liaison will recommend to the SOS, with successful contenders requiring 2/3 support.

With 1/3 agreeing to appeal the liaison’s decision and 2/3 ultimately sanctioning the candidate, GA delegates can certify someone not deemed eligible, as they are entitled to by section 1–4.3. (While Jan said the rule merely lets them confirm competitors, it seems to allow for decertifying them as well.) Then, the GA can exercise their authority to override the GPUS Delegation and the CC and refer to the SOS eligible campaigners whom those groups turned down, as long as 1/3 of delegates agree to a motion to appeal the groups’ verdicts and a majority of delegates vote in favor of the contenders.

It is a process that calls for compliance with party policy and accruing support from involved members. Based on Google Drive folders comprising the candidates’ applications, with confidential information redacted for this piece, there are instances in which their adherence to the guidelines is debatable.

The materials in Toler’s folder, for example, do not address section 1–3.3 in full; they do not explicitly tell the recipient he will try to campaign in California before the primary or that he will stand as the GPCA’s candidate in the fall if the national party were to select him as their nominee. He excluded FEC forms or any record of money that had gone towards his run, too. With respect to Daví, he pointed to a post from the GPUS X account welcoming his candidacy as proof of his official recognition from the GPUS, which section 1–3.4(b) instructs contenders to state. That is not the same, though. Violet Zitola of the PCSC said on December 21, in a comment for this article, that recognition had not been conferred to anyone at that time. Likewise, while all persons except Toler provided a digital copy of their signature, no substantiation they verified with the recipient it was their signature, per section 1–3.1, has been found at this time; Kanaana could not “remember if every one of [them] had done that or not.” But Jan attested no one was blocked based on whether they checked off all boxes in their requests. The timing of some of them, however, created challenges.

Kanaana said Daví and Stein had not sent in their items when the GPUS Delegation voted a week (or more) before the GA, which was held on October 21, and thus the group did not vote on them, ultimately recommending no one. On the other hand, Jan stated all those who applied were eligible for a referral from the CC. And though everyone had varying levels of support from the committee, Stein was the lone competitor to gain their approval — and the single one the GA then voted to recommend to the SOS. But the matter of timing was not completely at rest as it related to the CC and GA’s determinations. Daví, Sherman, and Zavala, also in conversation over Zoom and through private messaging services, criticized their rejection while emphasizing Stein’s eligibility for any referral came with accommodations they said should not have been made.

“Very Unusual” Proceedings

Stein filed for president on November 3 and publicly announced her candidacy on the 9th. Yet speculation over her intent to compete a third time had been developing since Cornel West, who had been campaigning as a Green, withdrewon October 5 to continue as an independent, leaving the primary race without an obvious frontrunner. Kanaana understood the thinking among some GPCA members following West’s dropping out as, “Somebody needed to take his place.” Stein suggested the day after his departure she might enter. The time left to get ready for the California primary and the GA, though, was short.

Section 1–3.2 of the rules states no fewer than seven days prior to the GA, a contender must get their submission in to the liaison, yet section 1–5.1 compels the CC and GPUS Delegation to settle on whom they will recommend ten days before the GA or sooner, opposing the former provision. It is unclear which one supersedes the other. However, Jan and Kanaana theorized if an application was sent to the party after these groups arrived at their decisions, it would advance straight to the GA for a vote if arranged correctly, but that may entail action authorized by section 1–4.3, if the Liaison has not certified it, and then by section 1–5.2, which would necessitate majority consent from GA delegates. This could have helped Stein, whose Drive folder shows she did not present her paperwork until October 19, two days before the GA. That was not the course she had to take, though.

According to a separate folder and Jan, Stein was granted extra time to prepare her forms after LeBeau Kpadenou, a Florida Green, reached out on October 9 and asked for it as an open proxy for a prospective candidate, observing “this year’s Green Party Presidential nomination process has already been very unusual.” He cited “a myriad of tasks to be taken care of” prior as the rationale for the entreaty. While Kpadenou’s letter did not provoke a move from the GPUS Delegation, the CC ratified the appeal. Kanaana said the GPCA was not initially certain whom Kpadenou was representing, but it was made official he was helping Stein on the same day she turned in her documents. Per Jan, the CC held a vote for her on the 20th, one day before the GA; they had already conducted a separate round of voting on the other competitors.

Candidates’ Criticisms

Daví, Zavala, and Sherman voiced anger at the fact such changes were permitted for Stein when they said they met the original deadline yet were passed over. Jan, who stressed he is not a designated spokesman for the CC or any part of the GPCA and the perspective he offered is his own, declared anyone’s exclusion from a referral to the SOS was resolved fairly. (He revealed a few GA delegates attempted to appeal the preliminary decision and force a vote on recommendation for Sherman and Zavala, in accordance with section 1–5.2, but they were ineffective. Kanaana said he was one of the delegates who advocated for Zavala.)

Jan defended the modifications to the process as well, insisting the extension was open to all campaigners who desired to take advantage of it, though he conceded those who had already put forward their items may not have been directly told about it. While he claimed the CC published a statement on the postponement, he did not share it. Plus, he touted the extension as beneficial to Daví, who he stated did not give his materials to the party until October 17. But a screenshot of an email in Daví’s Drive folder from that date insinuates he attempted to send them before then — early- or mid-September, Daví guessed — contradicting Jan and Kanaana. Kanaana also excused the extension because the party was not sure if the candidate asking for it “would have [had] the needed support” under sections 1–4.3 and 1–5.2 to manage missing the normal deadline.

When asked if the rules were formally amended to let Stein or anybody have supplementary time to finish a request, Jan said the CC approached the GPUS Delegation about their intentions, which Kanaana corroborated. Accompanying details of the arrangement are vague and it is not known if the Bylaws and Rules Committee, which holds the power to “review proposed amendments to governing documents,” played a role. Regardless, Jan again justified the flexibility okayed this cycle by stating, “We’re trying to do the best we can to further the interests of the Green Party.”

Those were not all of the problems the other contenders had with the GPCA’s process. Daví was dismayed he was not able to address the GA, accusing organizers of going as far as to cancel his ticket for the virtual assembly even though he got an invitation to join. (Jan said Zavala wanted the same as Daví.) Answering to Daví’s charge, Jan highlighted unchanged party rules, which restrict attendance at the GA to California Greens. The policy contains an exception for non-members to appear at the invitation of the Coordinating Committee, but Kanaana stated the invite Daví received was invalid. And Jan said the GPCA decided not to invite any presidential hopefuls; for one, they did not feel they were allotting them ample time to prepare for the convention due to the late preliminary voting period. And none of them would have been able to speak to the delegates during the portion of the agenda related to referrals. (Note: Zavala was there as a state resident.)

Sherman and Daví maintained there were setbacks with communication from the GPCA, too, implying the party was never going to help them. (Zavala argued something similar at a presidential forum in January.) Daví claimed there was no contact during a period across August and September as he was preparing his submission and that he had to consult a fellow candidate before he verified with Jan his dismissal at the GA. Meanwhile, a campaign manager for Sherman stated in an email they never heard from the GPCA after October 8, having tendered their items on the 2nd. Kanaana disputed this, saying he responded to that campaign and anyone whose messages made their way to him, despite confessing his memory of events was not perfect. Concerning any reported troubles in communication following the GA, Jan suspected, but did not state as fact, Laiti was tasked with notifying competitors.

Why Were the Others Rejected?

Jan reasoned Stein alone progressed as far as she did because the GA was meant to show agreement with the contenders’ platforms and their public presentation via a recommendation. The remaining four, he contended, had “extreme beliefs” or alienated the party through “other material on their websites.” He declined to specify what these disagreements were. Conversely, Kanaana divulged what GPUS Delegation members thought.

In line with Jan’s account, the GPUS Delegation judged — and gave the cold shoulder to — candidates over their political positions. Kanaana confirmed an allegation from Sherman, who uses they/them pronouns, that their backing of the death penalty lost them votes. (They later changed their opinion.) He said Zavala’s stance on “military issues,” perhaps referring to his support for a larger military force and spending on weaponry, cost him. He also credited some discontent to Zavala’s promotion of water vortex implosion, a type of structured water, which has been criticized as unscientific.

Similar to the CC, the GPUS Delegation focused on the image competitors cultivated when evaluating them. Randy Toler was negatively affected by this — and possibly seriously.

Kanaana declared Toler was not a “serious candidate” due to temporary difficulties opening his site and “some of the assertions he made,” labeling them “exaggerations.” This could be an allusion to Toler’s self-identification as a founder of the Green Party. A 1983 article in The New York Times aids his claim, describing his group as 10 years old at that point and counting over 10,000 members in Southern California. Additionally, he insists he registered the Greens with the FEC before anyone else and FEC records do label him the treasurer for the earliest listed entity with “Green Party” in its title. Yet after examining open historical accounts of the national and California parties on their sites, no verification of Toler’s claim he is a founder of the Green Party as most people know it, or its previous iterations, was located. And his assertion has long been denied by early Green activists, such as former presidential nominee Howie Hawkins. It is plausible Toler simply led his own green party, of questionable size, that members of the entity which evolved into the GPUS had no involvement in. Furthermore, he says he invented the word “ecologism,” defining it as “the political manifestations of ecology.” The Oxford English Dictionary traces the origins of “ecologism” to the 1900s, with a political meaning emerging in the 1960s; Toler says he came up with the term in the 1970s.

Per Kanaana’s version of events, it was not just Toler who was subject to debate on their viability by the GPUS Delegation. They considered how Zavala, a businessman, was endorsing his products on his campaign site. And while they did not vote on Daví, Kanaana said Daví “indicated that he was not going to” register his campaign with the FEC, which the SOS required before granting ballot access as a “recognized candidate,” and that this would have hurt him. Daví stated he needed to spend or raise over $5,000 beforehand, which the FEC does say obligates presidential contenders to file. Yet a staffer with the FEC Information Division avowed by email one is free to file without having met that threshold.

What Has Happened Since?

Jan admitted he wishes the “unusual circumstances” do not arise in the future and encourage an adjustment to the rules, while Kanaana said it could reoccur, contingent upon “compelling reasons.” In spite of their relative peace with the situation, Daví remained upset. He insisted, “This has nothing to do with their rules but simply that the leadership of the California party were conspiring to decide who California would choose as their presidential nominee.”

He emailed Jan and others close to the GPCA on October 28, urging them to rethink their ruling against him. With no changes made, he sent a second email on November 1 threatening legal action over the proceedings. He had no updates on legal matters as of January 27, nor did Jan and Kanaana. However, Kanaana did state the party previously tried to end the row with Daví by clarifying procedures to him.

Daví’s unsuccessful call to the GPCA to rectify their perceived wrongdoing represented the closing stage of only one attempt to acquire ballot access. He affirmed he lacked the resources to organize a petition drive, but he did try to establish by separate means his eligibility as a “recognized candidate.” He submitted proof to the SOS of participation in a presidential forum hosted by the GPUS Black Caucus and in a gathering of aspirants for different offices at last year’s GPUS Annual National Meeting, yet these may not have fit the SOS’ standards for debates. He showed evidence of inclusion in the primary for the GPUS’ Washington, D.C. affiliate as well, which likely constituted his strongest case to the SOS. Nevertheless, the SOS excluded him, probably due to the fact he had still not set up an FEC campaign committee by that time, which he acknowledged. He instead applied for and earned write-in status. In one of his final comments for this piece, he said, “We’re at a point now where it’s really on the members to start understanding their rights as members, regardless of anything.”

Zavala shared Daví’s sentiment, stating, “It is disheartening that the state of California did not allow its citizens the right to make an informed decision.” Like Daví, he will now compete in the primary as a write-in. “I am committed to making a positive difference and standing for truth and justice in these challenging times,” he added.

After the GPCA rebuffed them, Sherman was able to enter the primary for the Peace and Freedom Party, another ballot-certified, left-wing party in the state. They are still in the race for the Green Party’s nomination and have initiated their own party, the Unicorn Party, to push their program through the general election.

It is unknown if Toler pursued any more ballot access avenues in California, as he never replied to multiple inquiries. He is not a qualified write-in competitor, though his candidacy is still functional as of February 24.

Golden State voters who want to cast a ballot for Stein or write someone in must be registered Green. The regular deadline to do so was February 20, after which Conditional Voter Registration opened up. While mail ballots have already gone out, election day is officially March 5.

Update: A portion of text under the section “Why Were the Others Rejected?” was pulled since it relied too heavily on speculation and not on what was shared by the interviewees. In addition, an error regarding the rules around the petitioning process for primary ballot access was removed.



Jack Lucas

Jack Lucas is a writer with many (fleeting) interests. Rather than shut all but a few out, he will tell the story he wants to tell about any one of them.