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Baker: Third-party votes won't help your third party

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

By Evander Baker

Weird title, right? Seems counterintuitive.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to third-party voting for the presidential election. A lot of this year’s voting push has claimed that this is the most important election of our lifetime. If that is the case, I do have trouble believing that the Republican and Democratic parties are the only entities that could put forth a candidate and platform that would structure the executive branch’s approach for the next four years.

But still, American elections are currently very polarized, so it’s difficult to not see drastic differences between the two parties. Considering a candidate that isn’t Joe Biden or Donald Trump is apparently a vote for, well, the guy the person who’s chastising you is against. Honestly, that isn’t entirely false. Voting for the most preferred of the two major party’s candidates is a full “point” to your most ideal and realistic candidate. Of course, a vote against a person’s preferred candidate is a full “point” against your most ideal and realistic candidate. Not voting at all does not contribute to one party’s candidate, but it doesn’t help the other candidate either. Given there will only be one of two outcomes (in case anyone would like to argue that, I welcome anyone to wager a steak that neither Biden nor Trump will win), not voting or voting third party is not as beneficial as a vote for your preferred candidate. It takes away from the candidate one would prefer if they had to choose.

The fourth most viable party’s candidate would say the same. According to a September 19th interview with The Atlantic, the Greens candidate, Howie Hawkins, is running mainly to support local Green party candidates, and presidential candidates create more turnout for local elections. Even with his own reasons for running, Hawkins has a preference for a Presidential candidate (although he claims one is “less bad” than the other rather than calling it a preference. Semantics does not make it so that there is a noticeable difference that Hawkins, himself, acknowledges.) Jo Jorgensen’s campaign is to, against all odds and my assured steak dinner, win the election. It is more likely that the strategy is to create momentum for their respective parties at the local and state levels on the way to becoming more viable Presidential parties.

I am all for having more than two parties to consider in any one election. I welcome it. But, at best, I find it poorly conceived to do so in elections with drastically different proposed administrations, and I consider it selfish and self-destructive at worst, ironically.

I’ve already read why third-party votes are not self-serving, emotional protest votes.

I’ve read them and found them lacking in practice. There’s more to a president than the person themselves. I'll get to that later on.

Returning to the initial sentiment that the 2020 presidential election will determine the fate of our country, it simply seems like a really bad time to stand on a soapbox and promote your party so directly. Surely, Libertarians and Greens know their party’s candidate will not win the election.

I agree there are reasons to support third-party candidates in actual elections. If a party’s candidate receives 5% of the popular vote, their party becomes eligible for public funding and grants in the next election cycle. If a candidate receives 15% or more of polling, the Commission for Presidential Debates will give them a podium alongside the Democratic and Republican candidates.

I’ve discussed with others considering voting for third-party candidates that simply appearing in the polls give credence to their candidates. And getting funding will help them get their message across. I agree that would be very helpful.

Where I differ is not with the exact same argument that third-party votes are wasted. I do consider them less useful to moving the country in the best direction though.

Now here, I feel like I should address why I vote. Frankly, no individual vote matters in a national election. It does not matter who I vote for: it won’t affect Georgia’s electoral votes. So if my vote doesn’t matter, why should I vote? It’s because it’s our civic duty that we vote for our elected officials, and brave Americans before me fought hard so I could vote, so I vote for what I believe is in the best interest of my country. Personally, as voting is structured in 2020, I don’t believe voting strictly for the best candidate running is in the best interest of my country. I vote like my vote will make a difference, but only considering how the rest of the country votes, because there’s still a practical outcome to that “less bad” vote as Hawkins said.

So with my reasoning for why individuals should vote, I argue that voting for candidates that are not viable has actual, direct consequences.

Betsy DeVos. William Barr. Brett Kavanaugh. Mike Pompeo. Steve Mnuchin.

If you truly believe that President Trump and Vice-President Biden do not differ significantly, then for each of these appointees, convince anyone that Biden would leave Betsy DeVos or William Barr in their Cabinets. Do you believe Biden would have appointed Kavanaugh or Amy Coney Barrett?

Are you truly indifferent on Roe vs. Wade? Do you feel like it doesn’t matter who appoints those Supreme Court Justices, because they’ll make the same rulings?

How does a Libertarian approach abortion anyway? Do you give the right to the pregnant mother, the doctor, or the unborn human? Or do Libertarians not care at the Federal level and leave it to the states? Or do they not legislate it at all? Or does it vary based on the Libertarian much like how not every Republican or Democrat feels the same way about all issues, but you generally identify with the party’s beliefs and political philosophies?

Now if you believe Roe v. Wade doesn’t matter one way or another, then there’s still DeVos’ oversight of student loans and loan forgiveness to consider. Or rights for LGBTQ people in the Supreme Court. Anything the President’s Cabinet or appointees oversees, really.

Beyond that, both the major third parties might argue that the issues that plague the country cannot be so easily changed.

I agree: I would not believe that one election, even with two terms, will make the change you want especially with the two large parties in Congress still holding sway. If your President cannot work with the Congress primarily composed of Democrats and Republicans, then you will still not pass the laws you need for lasting change. Heck, neither Republicans nor Democrats have been able to do that, and they’re far more established parties.

What is the long-term plan for change for third parties? What are the strategies? And should that strategy endanger the country in the short-term and perhaps long-term in elections many people feel are too important to not vote in this cycle?

Election turnout has been historic as early polling and the strain on electoral resources indicate. It is not because people are coming out in droves to support Howie Hawkins or Jo Jorgensen.

So even if the reasoning for voting is not to win but to garner support for your party in the future, I find it too short-sighted and not comprehensive enough to do more than upset the majority of Democrat and Republican voters.

By focusing so much on federal elections, an emphasis both Greens and Libertarians normally shy away from in practice and in governing philosophy, you give up the opportunity to help elect administrations that will be more likely to create a political environment more conducive to your party and best address current issues the federal government will address in the next four years.

And it is incredibly selfish, if some have said as such, to hope for chaos in administration to get more people to become disenchanted with the two major parties. If the polarized nature of the Trump administration hasn't created such disenchantment with Republican or Democratic parties, what President will?

Now in being critical, I do want to pose a local approach for third parties. Your local elections need Greens, Libertarians, independents, and others. Garnering support in your local communities where you can have a rally in your town square that everyone will see and donating to (or even running for) local offices will begin to create political opportunities for citizens to see your party's platform in practice. See how Greens' approach to your local Board of Commissioners' budget will play out. Show why a Libertarian approach to local issues creates better and more satisfying outcomes. Or change the voting method to be something that does not encourage voting for the lesser of two evils. Do you feel like Libertarians would certainly win if voters didn't feel like their vote would be wasted if they voted third party? Make like Maine and implement Ranked-Choice Voting.

Pete Buttigieg was merely the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. But it was his leadership at that level that led him to be on several primary debate stage in front of a national audience. Isn't that a more likely way to gain the attention and respect your party wants?

That is where I believe your approach should begin.

Get people excited about your local politics and support your candidate there. Don't focus your supporters’ millions of dollars on an election that not only will not net you 5% in the election or 15% in polling but leaves the door open for the executive administration you believe is "more bad."

So it's less that I'm criticizing your party platform and philosophy (not here at least: how do Libertarians feels about vaccinations and any potential impacts of that.) It's more that I'm criticizing the approach of the party. I don't believe it is a winning strategy, but it is one that will lose you favor and potentially net you administrations even your party would not prefer.

Evander Baker is a public health official and Athens resident

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