This election the major parties nominated two of the most unpopular candidates in history. While both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have people who are enthusiastic about voting for them, many citizens aren’t. Instead, they find themselves voting for someone just to keep the other candidate out of office, call it electing the lesser of two evils.
For someone who’s dissatisfied with both candidates, or they feel that both are “equally bad,” (I disagree, but that’s another discussion for another time), they start looking for options, any options. This year, for the first time in several election seasons, potentially millions of Americans are taking a hard look at third-party candidates who promise you the choice of a candidate who better aligns with your values. The Libertarian, Green, and other parties all want your vote, telling you that you don’t have to settle for just the lesser of two evils.
But if you want to elect the next president, you still only have two choices. I’m not going to tell you that you’re wasting your vote because I don’t think you are. But I do think that you should think carefully about voting third party, particularly if you live in a swing state.
270 To Win
The third parties do a good job of letting you know one of the reason’s it’s so hard for them to participate in the election: The election commission is not a neutral party. Yes, it’s non-partisan, but only in the sense that it’s made up of Republicans and Democrats, no third party’s need to apply. This commission determines who can participate in the debate, how difficult it will be to get your name on a state ballot, and a host of other issues. It is a real, valid concern and something that should be addressed.
But it’s not why you’re unlikely to ever see our government with more than two viable political parties. You can blame the Electoral College for that.
If you’ve spent any time studying American Presidential races, you know that the president isn’t elected by the popular vote. Instead, each state has a certain number of electoral college votes, and the candidate that wins the popular vote in that state takes all of the electoral college votes (with the exception of Nebraska and Main, who can split their votes). The first candidate to reach 270 electoral votes, which is just over 50% of the total 538, wins.
In general, the candidate who wins the popular vote wins the electoral college, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, it’s theoretically possible to win the presidency with as little as 22% of the popular vote, though this is highly unlikely.
The electoral college is what makes is all but impossible for a viable three (or four) party system to function. To win a state, you need more than 50% of the popular vote. Even if Gary Johnson got 49.9999% of half the states in the country, he would end the election without a single electoral vote.
Not Wasted But Inefficient
This is why some people argue that you’re “wasting” your vote by voting third party. Since there’s no realistic way for them to win, you’re in a sense casting your ballot for someone you know will lose. But that’s not the only reason to vote for a third party.
If a candidate gets 5% of the popular vote, the next election their party is officially considered a “minor” party and they can access the matching fund set up by the Federal Election Campaigns act. This would give them a pretty substantial pool of cash to draw from, making it easier to get on the ballot and run advertising than if you had to fund the campaign on your own.
Voting for a third party also sends a message to the primary parties: the issues of that third party matter. If the GOP hopes to recapture a Libertarian voter, they might need to address small government or personal liberty a focus. A democrat courting Green Party voters will have to make environmental issues a cornerstone, not an afterthought, of their campaign.
Swing States & Third Parties
The “wasting your vote” language comes into play when you live in a swing state, such as Florida, Ohio, or Pennsylvania. In these elections, the electoral college votes can be decided by just a few thousand votes. The logic goes that if you vote for a Libertarian and the state goes to a Democrat, then you helped them win because, in general, a Libertarian would align themselves closer to the GOP than they would the DNC, so if you didn’t vote third party you might’ve helped the Republicans carry the state.
This assumption usually has data to back it up, since in previous elections voters who said they wanted to vote Libertarian voted Republican if they were only given two choices. There is, of course, nothing that forces you to vote for the GOP if you can’t vote Libertarian of vote Democrat if you can’t vote Green. You can choose to vote for the other party, choose not to vote, or cast the official “no vote” protest vote ballots have, signaling that you want “none of the above.”
This two party system is terrible, and it needs to end. But in my opinion, the way to do this isn’t by casting a single protest vote every four years. Libertarians, Greens, Constitution Party, Justice Party, and any other group that wants to change politics needs to start running locally.
If you’re passionate about Libertarian causes, support someone running for local office (or do it yourself!). In general, getting on a local election ballot is easier than even running for a statewide office, and the more these parties are seen in their communities, the more it will normalize them.
We also need to push to change how elections are handled. This is another post entirely, and I’m not sure I know what the answer is, but the electoral college will continue to prevent viable third parties until we change it.
It Still Comes Down To Two Choices
So if you hate both candidates and think they’re both evil and you live in a swing state, you still only have two choices. If you haven’t, I highly encourage you to read up on the policies offered by not just the candidate you support, but the two main candidates you don’t. I’m not talking about the news, or hot takes, but read their policies, listen to their speeches. Then ask yourself if you truly, deeply believe that both of them would be equally as bad for most Americans, or America itself.
If you think that one candidate is better than the other, even if you still find them to be completely imperfect, I would strongly encourage you to consider still voting for them. I stand with you in changing the system 100%, but I don’t think that a vote for president will do it.
If, however, you feel that both candidates are 100% equally bad, that if given the choice between the two, you’d choose not voting, then on November 5th cast your ballot for your third party. I might not agree with you, I’d want to discuss this with you, but it is your right to cast your vote as you please and voting is never a waste. But when you cast your ballot, be sure to look at the other offices, such as senate, house, and local campaigns. These offices matter and too many people forget to cast the votes in them.
It’s always your choice. Choose wisely.