This is an article I did not want to write. Like many Americans, I once felt that third party candidates deserve more attention in media and on the campaign trail. In this reality TV show of an election, third party voices in debates could highlight issues that neither major party candidate has touched on and find a wider audience.
However I have come to realize that, ultimately, none of that would matter in the voting booth. The third party vote, though it pains me to admit, is, indeed, a throwaway vote due to the way voting works in the United States.
We have numerous individuals running for president in this 2016 election. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson are the two candidates with the most public support while dozens of others run for various esoteric parties. Not all of these these alternative nominees for the presidential seat will appear on the ballot in every state. In fact, in some parts of the United States these candidates are relegated to write-in status at best, and do not show at all at the very worst.
Many of us realize that when we go out to vote, we are not inherently voting for the candidate that best aligns with our beliefs, but rather we simply go with the popular vote. This leaves these nominees in a precarious place from the start. Also, most third party candidates are at a disadvantage, as there are too many in the running overall to be covered on a ballot. When really considering these individuals, who would vote for someone they have never heard speak in debates or on campaigns?
Instead of the voting process we like to assume happens, appointed electors in each state are the ones who choose the next president. We know them as the electoral college. More often than not, these electors either vote with the people or with their party alignment.
If the third party support starts to overwhelm the Republican or the Democrat votes, this electoral body has a means of balancing and counteracting these alternative votes. This can be illustrated in the swing state votes in these national elections, and there is no example better than the story of the 2000 Presidential Election.
Aside from George W. Bush and Al Gore, two popular candidates on the third party ballot were Ralph Nader of the Green Party and Patrick Buchanan of Reform Party. According to the Federal Election Commission, Nader received 2.74 percent and Buchanan earned 0.293 percent of the popular vote respectively.
Obviously, this is small potatoes compared to Bush and Gore’s voting numbers. However in the case of swing states, these candidates did not actually measure with Bush and Gore as equals in the race. Instead, these alternate candidates served to pivot the region’s vote to favor one popular presidential nominee over the other in the states.
To quote from an article in the New York Times on third parties in debates, “many people remember that Nader got enough votes in Florida in 2000 to supposedly swing that state from Al Gore to George W. Bush. What many forget is that another third-party candidate, Patrick Buchanan, who ran as the Reform Party’s standard-bearer, got enough votes in four other states to tip them from the Republican to the Democratic column.”
If the purpose of a third party candidate in the popular vote is to tip Democrat or Republican voting, then why even have these third party and independent candidates listed as a choice? It is unfair to the candidate and the candidate’s campaign to offer them this opportunity. It is unfair to the voters who stand behind the candidate’s platforms to allow their vote to funnel into either of the major parties’ polls, instead of having the same validity as any other vote.
This year’s election is, as we have said before, and will say again about every election to come, the most important one of our lifetime. The solicitation of apathy is a complete abdication of one’s social and political obligation to one’s self and the greater community. This certainly cannot be condoned. It can only be advised to invest in the lesser evil when casting your vote for president, since, as the evidence shows, we are only going to get one or the other of the two main rivals.