Libertarian presidential candidate Lars Mapstead, a tech entrepreneur from California, survived until the fourth round of elimination voting at the 2024 Libertarian Party National Convention in Washington, DC on May 26.

He gave way to the final winner, Chase Oliver, the “armed and gay” Libertarian in Georgia whose 80,000 votes in 2022 forced the runoff race between Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock that shifted the Senate majority to Democrats. Mapstead, who garnered around 15% of the vote in each round of convention voting, represents a more centrist minority in the party.

Oliver, in contrast, represents the Classical Liberal Caucus in the Libertarian Party. As his running mate, the party chose Michael ter Maat, a “paleolibertarian” representing the party’s ascendant Mises Caucus, inspired by Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, who opposed all government intervention in the economy and favored isolationism in foreign affairs.

Campaigning to “Unrig the System,” Mapstead called for a Voters Bill of Rights to end two-party “duopoly” rule by the Democrats and Republicans. He urged congressional term limits and a ban on insider trading to “fight back against corporate money in politics.” A former drug abuser, he’d end the drug war, eliminate qualified immunity for police, enforce healthcare transparency, and give patients more control over their care.

Unlike Libertarians espousing the Objectivist view of Ayn Rand that “selfishness is a virtue,” Mapstead promotes a more empathic Libertarian slogan, “Don’t Tread on Anyone.”       

At the Libertarian Party of Colorado (LPCO) state convention in Colorado Springs in March, Lars Mapstead sat down for an extended conversation with the Colorado Times Recorder. Below is that lightly edited dialogue.

CTR: Thanks for taking time to talk with me today. May we start with your short bio?


Mapstead: I was raised by hippies, basically. I grew up really poor in Big Sur, California, on a pot farm [laughs] with no electricity and an outhouse. The building I grew up in later became a goat barn. And for a guy that grew up with no electricity, I found my career in 1994 in Silicon Valley, which isn’t too far from Big Sur.

I connected with computers and became a serial entrepreneur. I started a lot of different companies over a twenty-year span, all based around internet marketing. The biggest one was a company called Friend Finder Networks, the dating websites. My partner and I grew that company to 600 employees doing $350 million a year in sales from 35 million members. One in 10 Americans was a member at one time or another.  In 2007, we sold the company for $500 million. That was a really big payday for a kid that grew up with an outhouse and no electricity, right?

So, I’ve seen different levels of income inequality, different levels of wealth in my own personal life. And I’ve been married to my wife for 30 years. We have two daughters. I met her at work in the early days, before I got into the internet. We were working for a collection agency together.

CTR: Given your background, what lead you to a libertarian philosophy?

Mapstead: All my life, I’ve not felt like I was a Democrat or a Republican. I voted for Ross Perot, and I voted for Ron Paul a couple times. Something resonated with me for those guys.  I voted for them primarily over the national debt and the Federal Reserve. I like economics and the idea of free markets. Those guys were talking about how the future of American citizens was being sold down the river. They said the youth of today are being sold out. At that time, I was the youth of today. So, this resonated with me.

I never really fit in. I’ve been voting in every election all my adult life, and I’ve never once had a person elected to Congress that I voted for. I’ve never once felt represented by anybody representing me in Congress.  

But I didn’t know I was a libertarian until I took the quiz in 2007 [The World’s Smallest Political Quiz].  I thought, this’ll be a hoot. Will it pick my type as a Democrat or a Republican? Well, I took the quiz, and I’m way at the top of the chart in this thing called “Libertarian.”

What the hell is that? I literally had to Google, “What is a libertarian?” I had no idea. And I’m reading down a list of things that Libertarians believe, and, wow, like 90 percent of this stuff is what I believe, so that resonates with me. I would say my whole life I’ve been a small “l” libertarian.

That’s when I started identifying as a libertarian. I registered as a Libertarian and began voting Libertarian. I didn’t know there was a formal Libertarian Party until the 2018 election. That’s when I got more active as a big “L” Libertarian.

The Choice to Run for President

CTR:  What prompted your decision to run for president?

Mapstead: A lot of my friends had often told me, you have great ideas. You have good things to say that could fix America, that sort of thing. Well, I kind of brushed it off. They’re like, you should run for some kind of office and help society, help Americans. And I was like, I don’t know.

But when Covid hit. I just couldn’t sit by and watch as the government really became very authoritarian in a lot of ways. My personal belief was that people should be allowed to make their own informed decisions, come to their own thought process. The government’s job was to give nonbiased information to help citizens be informed, so they can make a decision between them and their doctor or what they want to do about this thing, the pandemic.

I live in Santa Cruz, California, which is as liberal as it can possibly get, right? There was an old couple, retired couple, sitting in their car and watching the sunset go down. The police kept coming and telling them they needed to go home. They couldn’t be out in their own car, with the windows rolled up, because somehow the Covid was gonna jump out and kill the people next to them, or something like that.

I went to a state park during Covid. I wanted to go for a hike, but at the gate was told the parking lot was full. And I thought, maybe a lot of people really want to be here because it’s the only place you can go outside. I finally pull into the parking lot and every other parking space is blocked off because they’re social distancing the cars.

I just lost it. I was like, I cannot have this going on anymore. I cannot succumb. This is ridiculous. You people are acting irresponsibly and irrationally. Come at this from a rational point of view. The government sold us so much fear. For me, it almost became like a reality TV show. I saw both Trump and Cuomo battling back and forth on TV, and they turned Covid into a political football.

CTR: I think we saw what Naomi Klein wrote about in The Shock Doctrine. She tells how crises are used by authoritarians to push through policies that otherwise people would oppose.

Mapstead: She’s a good writer. And that was a big part of why I decided to run.

Another reason is that I have always felt we should have more choices and more voices on the ballot. Back in 2020, we had 1,500 people run for president. I guarantee you that any one of those 1,500 people were better than the two or three people we’ll end up forced to vote for on the ballot this coming November.

We should have more opportunities to hear other voices, so we can make a more informed decision about who we want serving us as our public servants in Washington.

The Reality of Running for President

CTR: Can you talk about the practical side of running for president? For instance, what’s the size of your campaign team?

Mapstead: I have about 20 paid staff and 200 volunteers. That’s a fairly substantial organization. I’ve run a bunch of startups, and running for president is a lot like running a startup. You have to have a plan. You have to put a team together. You have to get your finances in order. You have to get your marketing and your messaging together. Putting all those pieces together is in my wheelhouse, right?

CTR: And what’s your goal as a presidential candidate?

Mapstead: I’m trying to win enough electoral votes to stop both Trump and Biden from getting 270 electoral votes. I’m trying to cause a contingent election, which under the Constitution, sends the election to the House of Representatives to decide who’s going to be President of the United States.

CTR: Depending on who controls the House, if they pick, Trump, wouldn’t that risk a dictatorship?

Mapstead: Oh, of course, but look, only two people are going to be elected, either Trump or Biden. That’s, the way it is. What I’m trying to do is start a conversation that we don’t have to put up with these two guys. We don’t have to put up with being forced to choose between these two guys. We have options.

If you are an independent in America, and you’re fed up with having to choose between Trump or Biden, if you don’t want either of these guys to be president, send a message to Washington that we’re fed up. Deny them both the electoral votes needed to win the presidency. This is how you take back your voice. You take back your voice by denying Trump and Biden the 270 electoral votes.

How Libertarians Nominate a President

CTR: To get nominated at their national conventions, Democrats and Republicans have to win delegates in state primaries, but there’s not a primary system in the Libertarian Party. Can you explain this system?

Mapstead: Here’s the interesting thing. Unlike the Republicans and Democrats, we don’t go out to the public in any of the states and have primary voters select our nominee. The Libertarian Party elects its presidential nominee through super delegates at the national convention. Unfortunately, I don’t necessarily love the way this is done.

Look, we’re here at this Colorado convention to sell 33 people in this room to vote for us. I’ve traveled to 30 states so far to get delegates to show up for me at the national convention, where there will be 1100 delegates. I need to get enough of them to vote for me. And then I’ll be the nominee. That is the reason I’m here today.

CTR: And how are you doing so far?

Mapstead: I’m probably at about 300 delegates. In the weeks ahead I’ll need another 400 or more to seal it away.

The way that it works at the convention is that they take a vote with all candidates, and if no one wins 50 percent, they drop the bottom couple of people. Then they take another vote, and they keep going, dropping two people in each round, until they get a winner.

CTR: Sounds in principle a bit like preference balloting or ranked-choice voting.

Mapstead:  It’s close.

CTR: I talked to people staffing a table here for Approval Voting. They said it would give us the ability to vote for more than one candidate on the ballot in each race. The winner would be the one with the most total votes overall. Could Libertarians adopt alternative systems like that for nominating presidential candidates?

Mapstead:  Approval Voting is an option. Another is STAR voting [acronym for “Score Then Automatic Runoff”].  Voters score or rank candidates for an office with zero to five stars: The two highest-scoring finalists enter an automatic runoff, and the candidate with the most total preference votes is the winner. No need for a costly runoff election.

There are five or six different ways of voting being discussed lately. And I am all for changing our current voting system in America. I believe it favors keeping the two-party system intact. My goal is having more voices and more choices. Alternative voting methods will allow for more options on the ballot, essentially.

Private Money in Public Elections

CTR: Where do you stand on publicly funded elections versus privately funded elections?

Mapstead: Ideally, we wouldn’t have publicly funded elections, because right now they’ve been co-opted., right?

CTR: Actually, we don’t really have publicly funded elections now. We have publicly funded administration of elections, but the presidential campaigns themselves are funded by private money, not the fraction of us who click the $3 campaign fund checkbox on our tax returns. What if we removed all private money from public elections?

Mapstead: Let me throw something out at you. The Republicans and Democrats, the RNC and the DNC, are two private corporations who control our election system in America. The private corporation picks who’s gonna be on the ballot, not the citizens of America, not the taxpayers of America.

In 2020, for instance, the Democratic National Committee went to the federal government and said, “We need $30 million for security at our convention.” So, we literally gave them $35 million of taxpayer money to this private corporation to provide security for their convention.

CTR: I’m talking about the money that goes into the campaigns coming from taxpayers rather than private donors, chiefly those who buy influence with large donations.

Mapstead: Sure. Today, it’s whoever has the most money gets the most airtime and has the greatest chance of winning. I get where you’re coming from, but I think total public funding of elections is impossible. You can’t really stop people from banning together to push through an idea or a candidate they want.

I personally agree with what you’re saying. In utopia, that would be the best system. But we’re not going to end political parties. There will always be people that join together. You get all of your friends together, and you pay for their hotel room, so they can go canvas for you. Then you start a super PAC, and you use that money in order to pay for media, unbeknownst to the canvassers.

CTR: What if each candidate had an equal amount of money? Or if every ballot measure had an equal amount of money? Then it’s up to them how they spend those public funds. Voters can see how wise candidates are by how they spend the money.

Mapstead: Yeah. The current legislature will never pass that. They know the system is rigged, and they enjoy the way the system is rigged, so they’re never changing that.

CTR: That’s sad, because public funding may be about the only way we’re going get at the corruption.

Mapstead: I don’t disagree with you. Citizens United led to all these super PACs. It’s all a wink, wink, nudge, nudge kind of thing. They’re all colluding with the candidates, but they’re not supposed to, right? And then along comes a wealthy person, a citizen running for office, who can put unlimited amounts of money into their campaign. You saw that with Michael Bloomberg. He put a hundred million dollars into his campaign, and he lost. That’s a pretty big thumb on the scales for winning or not winning

CTR: Joe Blow doesn’t have a hundred million.

Mapstead: Exactly. But if you are rich, and if you are my good friend, I can come to you and say, “Hey, good friend, I would like to have you contribute to my campaign. You can only donate the individual limit of $3,300. That’s it.” You may be my best friend and have the ability to give me $10 million, but you are precluded from doing that. Instead, you can go find or create a super PAC , and you can put $10 million there to help me.

CTR: That’s part of the corruption.

Mapstead: Behind you a hundred percent, but I don’t think that will ever be overturned because it’s a free speech issue. It’s our ability to say what we think.

CTR: Do you think that money is free speech? That’s how campaign donations are being interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mapstead: I think speech is speech, and money is money.  I mean, you shouldn’t be prohibited from spending your money the way you want to spend it.  For instance, unions pool money together and then push their political agendas, or individuals can go out and print flyers to pass around in their communities.

I just think there’s so many loopholes and gray areas where people would still be able to fund things behind the scenes, to push the needle, that you can never really get money out of politics. It’s a great idea, but I think it will never happen.

A Voters Bill of Rights

CTR:  Okay, let’s close by talking about your proposal for a voter’s Bill of Rights.

Mapstead: Sure. The Voters Bill of Rights is a policy we’ve put together to level the playing field and open the door, so we have more choices and more voices. A centerpiece is allowing ballot access for all citizens, regardless of party or affiliation.

Right now, Congress has one representative per district. For instance, California has 54 districts and 54 representatives in the House. We would like to get rid of that and allow for more. If you wanted, you could have five districts with ten representatives from each, then you would have a more varied group of people representing you in Congress, right?

We also call for the end of all gerrymandering to form districts. Gerrymandering is totally gross. Getting rid of it would help bring back integrity to our election system.

Also, any citizen should have the right to audit the vote. It shouldn’t be left up to Democrats and Republicans to audit the vote. It should be any citizen.

CTR: And who pays for an audit?

Mapstead: The Secretary of State in that state, or else the federal government.

CTR: The way it is now, in many cases, if you challenge the results, you pay for the audit.

Mapstead: I’m fine with that, too, but right now there isn’t an easy way for any citizen to audit the vote. If your state uses digital election machines, these should use open-source code, so we know exactly what’s there and how it’s being used. Elon Musk famously made Twitter source code open source, so anybody can see what’s going on. That’s what we need in our federal election system. We need total transparency. Even if we say we have free and fair elections, we never really know.

CTR: Elections integrity journalist Brad Friedman at The Brad Blog says certified paper ballots with public hand-counting is the only secure and reliable form of voting. I imagine teams of people would sit at tables and count the anonymous ballots while video cameras record everything. This would take longer than counting with fast machines, but there could be no accusations of rigged code-switching votes in the machines.

Mapstead: One of the ideas we have in the Voters Bill of Rights is a paper receipt that shows how you voted. You can then match that up to what’s on the government website. You can say, yes, my vote was counted correctly.

CTR: Would the government show who you voted for? I see anonymous voting as a private act of conscience.

Mapstead: As long as only you know how you voted, and you’re the only one that can access that machine data to verify your vote is counted correctly, I think that’s good. But I’m fine with paper ballots. We have voting machines in California, but I’ve never used one.  I always use the used paper ballot.

CTR: In Colorado, we have paper ballots, but we have machines counting those ballots.

Mapstead: Right, that’s what we have in California, too. We all remember the hanging chads in Florida, that famous guy with his eyeballs straining to figure out the voter’s intent.

CTR: Of course, that whole thing was absurd because the Supreme Court never should have intervened. They should just let them finish the count, so we knew for sure.

Mapstead: Yeah, I don’t disagree with you.

CTR: And with that, I think we’re done. Thank you for taking time to talk.

Mapstead: Yes, thank you very much. I’m grateful.