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Michigan Libertarians received enough votes to have their candidates listed in the next state primary election in August 2018.

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson earned Tuesday more than the 154,040-vote threshold necessary for the Libertarian Party of Michigan to participate in the August 2018 statewide primary.

The former Republican governor from New Mexico won 172,711 votes in Michigan, or 3.6 percent of the state’s total vote. That’s the largest percentage of votes captured by a third-party candidate since Ross Perot won 9 percent in 1996.

Unofficial state results show that third-party candidates in Michigan earned a combined 233,249 votes compared with 51,136 in 2012 — more than double the 108,944 third-party votes cast in 2000 when the Green Party’s Ralph Nader garnered 84,165 votes.

The big third-party turnout was likely fueled by unfavorability ratings with both Republican President-elect Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“My vision is to be a political force,” said Bill Gelineau, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Michigan. “I think this is breakout opportunity. We’re up 55 percent in membership this year, and I give much of that credit to Gary Johnson. We were given an opportunity here.”

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“Well, the only person happier than me today is (Ronna) Romney McDaniel,” he said with a laugh, referring to the Michigan Republican Party chairwoman whose party kept its majority in the state’s congressional delegation and the state House.

Gelineau said Michigan Libertarians also will now be able to participate in more debates and spread their message. But with the new opportunity comes with more work for the burgeoning party, he said.

Gelineau was a Libertarian candidate for the 86th District state House seat, for which he won 1,265 or 3 percent of the district’s votes Tuesday night, according to unofficial election results. He lost to Republican Thomas Albert, who won 60 percent of the vote.

He said now the party will have to spend more time and resources developing good candidates and solid policy positions while training them to “talk in serious ways in public policy.”

To increase the party’s power, Libertarians also will need to change the party’s organizational structure, Gelineau said. Not all party members may agree because some “object to the whole political process” and see themselves as casting protest votes, he said.

mgerstein@detroitnews.com

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