“A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump.”
It’s a template used every election by hard-line partisans to coerce voters into voting for their candidate. “A vote for (insert third-party candidate) is a vote for (insert major party candidate).” But, should we be threatened by this nonsense?
To answer this question, one must look at the political construct of this nation. Common knowledge indicates that our Founding Fathers never intended for this nation to be absorbed in the party system. George Washington noted in his presidential farewell address that the spoils of political parties do nothing but discriminate upon the electorate. In a series of scandals and controversies, legislators began to take sides, and thus was the creation of political parties. Federalist, Anti-Federalist, and eventually, the Democratic-Republicans. After Andrew Jackson became president, a deep political divide separated the electorate further. Since then, we’ve dealt with the ramification of a two-party system.
Democrats and Whigs. Democrats and Know-Nothings. Democrats and Republicans. Certainly, other political parties have existed over the years. But none of them have been comparable to the support Democrats and Republicans have. A recent Gallup poll shows that when asked how they identify politically, 27 percent of respondents said they were Republican and 31 percent said they were Democrat. Of the remaining respondents, a record 38 percent respondent that they were “independent,” or felt they did not belong to either political party.
What’s more is that two-party identification is at its lowest point since polling on the subject began. In 1988, 36 percent of respondents said they were Democrat, 31 percent said they were Republican, and 33 percent said they were “independent.”
Why such dismal numbers? We are gridlocked in a system that makes us choose for the more desirable of two less-than-desirable options. Congressional productivity since 2011 is at its lowest point in the history of Congress because of the deep political divide. See, before 1995, members of Congress worked across the aisles to get things accomplished. Indeed, history shows that there was a large overlap between the most conservative Democrat and the most liberal Republican. Essentially, people in the middle who felt that they did not belong to a political party could choose someone of a political party that was not exactly partisan and be satisfied.
Then things changed. Party whips ensured adherence to party-line voting. Members who were not deemed conservative or liberal enough were primaried and replaced on the ticket with more extreme candidates. Slowly over time, that aforementioned overlap began to diminish. The result has become one of the most divisive, destructive party systems in the world. It’s this vicious cycle that has resulted in a record number of people waxing independent, a cause without a party.
Every four years, people take their frustrations to the ballot box, at least on a presidential level. In a normal election cycle, these independents must choose between two candidates with which they may have severe or bitter disagreements. That’s why there is so much focus on the independent vote. Each party tries to capture the middle: a middle increasingly growing with dissatisfied former partisans. The sheer focus of the election moves away from issues and towards “what lie can I tell you to garner your vote?”
This pinch on electoral freedom has come to a head this election, and voters are angry. There is no common ground between the Democratic and Republican nominee. However, the talk of third-party campaigns has risen. Believe it or not, there are other options.
Gary Johnson has made a big push in trying to gather the support of dissatisfied partisans by taking stances on issues that put him in the ideological center. Polls show him garnering the most support of any Libertarian candidate in history.
So why do we feel the need to vote for one of two less-than-desirable options. That answer lies in the Electoral College.
The Electoral College harbors the environment where the two-party system thrives. Electoral votes are divvied up among all 50 states and the District of Columbia according to population. California gets 55 electoral votes for being the largest state and Wyoming gets a measly three votes for being the smallest. Electors then cast their vote for whomever won their respective state, save for Nebraska and Maine, in which all but two of their votes may be cast for the candidate who won their respective congressional district.
The Electoral College does not account accurate representation. With Wyoming’s three electoral votes, we are garnered more federal representation than any other state solely because of our small population. The bigger problem lies when Wyoming is compared to other states with the same allocated number of electoral votes. Montana has a population of just over 1 million people; Wyoming has a population just over half that size. One electoral vote in Wyoming represents approximately 195,000 residents, while one electoral vote in Montana represents approximately 333,000 residents. Same electoral allocation, two different populations, two drastically different appropriations.
Is the Electoral College really representative of the popular vote? Franklin Delano Roosevelt easily won reelection in 1936, beating Kansans Governor Alf Landon. The Electoral College vote was 523 to 8 – one of the most lopsided elections in history. The popular vote, however, tells a different tale. FDR managed to win 60 percent of the popular vote compared to Landon’s 37 percent. A win is a win, yes. However, a 98.4 percent win in the Electoral College does not mirror a 60 percent win of the popular vote.
Let’s take a look at one of the more controversial examples: the election of 1876. Republican Governor Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio battled Democratic Governor Samuel Tilden of New York for the seat vacated by Ulysses S. Grant. When election day rolled around, the national popular vote put Tilden in the lead not by a plurality, but by a solid majority. When tallied, Tilden captured 51 percent of the popular vote compared to Hayes’ 48 percent. However, because of the allocation of electoral votes and the necessity of the Electoral College, Hayes won the presidency by one electoral vote. He did not receive a mandate of the people. This would not be the last time this would occur, either.
George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000 because of 537 votes in the state of Florida – a long-time battleground state. Both campaigns focused their efforts to capture this state that would prove decisive for a presidential victory. It should be noted that independent candidate Ralph Nader likely ate away at Al Gore’s lead in the state, allowing Bush to win.
The Electoral College and the idea of battleground states have both turned the quest for the presidency from a national campaign to a 10-state campaign. Democrats nor Republicans would consider stepping foot in Wyoming because it is so deeply considered a “red state.” They don’t get to hear voter frustration, nor the tales of party successes or failures within the state.
Is a vote for a third-party candidate a vote wasted? No. People crave change. In an electorate so indecisive because of hyperpartisanship among two major parties, they’re mad as hell. They shouldn’t be threatened to vote for a candidate they don’t agree with. It may be risky in parts of the country not safeguarded by the Electoral College. And, indeed, we’ve seen how third-party candidates have winnowed away at leads in key states. However, third-party candidacies can break that stranglehold we’ve been living in for almost 250 years. Simply put, if you don’t agree with a political party or their candidate, don’t vote for them, because a vote for that candidate is a vote against your freedom to exercise your Constitutionally-mandated right.