I’ve grown up with people around me telling me how important it is to vote. “People died for our right to vote.” “Every vote counts.” So once I turned 18, there was no question that I would be voting in the next election. So here we are, my first election and I’m forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. Or am I? These less than ideal circumstances got me thinking: Do I really have a choice if I have to make it under duress? I don’t think so.
The presidential election gives voters the illusion of choice. It’s almost like a parent asking their child if they want to take a bath before or after dinner. Either way the child is going to get wet, but at least they feel like they have a choice in the matter. How many times have you been to the polls and seen names that you’ve never even heard of? Sure, you could choose one of them, but why would you? You don’t know anything about them, so it might as well be your mailman running for president. Why don’t these candidates have the same exposure as Democratic and Republican candidates?
Money and the media are the major forces working to the detriment of third-party candidates. According to Kristina Nwazota, a journalist for PBS NewsHour, “Campaign finance rules say that a political party can only get government funding to run a race if it received a certain percentage of votes from the previous election.” Since most people are focused on the two major political parties, the media tend to overlook the candidates from other parties. This lack of media coverage results in third-party candidates not being able to generate the new supporters necessary for government funding; therefore, many candidates are forced to fund themselves and find their own means of exposure.
The political system works against third-party candidates, as well. The “winner-take- all” electoral system allows the candidate with the highest percentage of votes to take all of that state’s electoral votes in 48 of 50 states; the exceptions are Nebraska and Maine. In 2000, Democrats blamed Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for taking votes from Al Gore, Nwazota reported. The Commission on Presidential Debates requires candidates to poll at 15 percent in order to participate in any presidential debates. However, this system is extremely biased. In the current election, one poll of voters under 30 showed Jill Stein of the Green Party was polling at 16 percent, according to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. Goodman notes that this Commission is controlled by the two major political parties, which says a lot considering they feel like the presence of another candidate steals votes from their party’s candidate.
Third-party candidates often force Democrats and Republican to consider issues they would otherwise overlook. It’s easy to forget that when Abraham Lincoln won the presidency, Republicans were considered a third-party. Running on an anti-slavery campaign was not a popular platform in 1860. Women’s suffrage was brought into the political battleground largely by The Socialist Party, and the Populist party brought attention to many issues that led to the Fair Standards Act of 1983, Nwzota reported. Dave Shilling, a contributor for The Guardian, notes that in the current election, Stein has used the death of Harambe, the gorilla shot at the Cincinnati Zoo, to address the issue of animal rights.
With so many young people supporting Bernie Sanders and the state of this election being what it is, we are specifically discouraged from voting for third-party candidates. However, I would challenge this rhetoric and encourage everyone to look into the policies of the third-party candidates. If every vote counts the way we’ve been told, then it is our duty, as citizens of this country, to vote for the candidate we feel embodies the direction our country should be going; even if that means they do not belong to one of the major political parties. Third-party candidates have a history of progressive ideas and we owe it to ourselves to consider every possible option. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”