MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, October 22nd, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up: third parties.
We hear a lot about Democrats versus Republicans, Biden versus Trump. Many voters avidly support one or the other, but some are dissatisfied with both.
REICHARD: Every election, a few voters opt to cast their ballots for a third party candidate. What’s behind that choice, and what effect does it have on elections? WORLD’s Anna Johansen reports.
ANNA JOHANSEN: Elias Gannage is a young voter in northern Virginia. He cast his first ballot in 2016, supporting Marco Rubio for president.
GANNAGE: Outside of that, I have voted straight Republican on every candidate, and I’ve participated in every single election since then, and voted Republican, both local and at the national level.
But on November 3rd, Gannage doesn’t plan to vote Republican for president. He says he can’t support Donald Trump as the leader of the United States or as the face of the Republican party.
Gannage is also staunchly pro-life. So he doesn’t plan to vote for Democrat Joe Biden, either.
GANNAGE: We make a big claim, to stand for morality, and to stand for truth and what’s right. And because of that, it’s vitally important that we choose a leader who exemplifies what we value, not just in what they say, but in their actions.
Gannage says he has only one option: Voting third party.
There are dozens of political parties in the United States. The Socialist Workers Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, the United States Pirate Party. There’s something for everyone.
Each state handles political parties differently. Some require a party to have a certain number of registered voters in order to get a candidate on the ballot. In other states, a party has to file a petition, or win a percentage of the vote. Most third party candidates don’t make it on the ballot. Voters can write them in, but they don’t get a lot of attention.
Right now, the Libertarian Party is the most popular third party in the United States. If you’ve watched the TV series Parks and Recreation, you might remember this Libertarian, Ron Swanson.
RON SWANSON: Diane, for potholes you want to speak with Public Works. I understand, you’ve tried them four times. Government is inefficient and should be dissolved.
In real life, Libertarians are socially liberal, fiscally conservative. They want smaller government, fewer regulations, more individual rights. This year, Jo Jorgenson is the Libertarian candidate for president. A recent poll showed about 5 percent of American voters backing Jorgenson.
AD: In Jo’s America, marijuana is now safe and legal. Our healthcare system finally sees real competition and falling prices. You get to keep your paycheck. You’re finally free. You’re finally free.
The Libertarian Party doesn’t claim to be pro-life. That’s one reason Elias Gannage isn’t voting Libertarian this year.
GANNAGE: I cannot support the Libertarian candidate, because she definitely is supporting legalized abortion.
Dennis Lowe is a county organizer for the Libertarian Party in upstate New York. He knows Jo Jorgenson won’t actually win the presidency. But he wants to keep the door open for future Libertarian candidates. In New York, if you want to have a place on the ballot, your party has to regularly draw a certain number of votes.
LOWE: So it’s very important for every Libertarian in New York to vote for the Libertarian presidential candidate, because they have greatly increased our requirement for how many ballots we have to have to keep a permanent place on the ballot.
Not everyone likes third parties, because they pull votes away from the two main candidates.
Lee Drutman is a senior fellow at the think tank New America.
DRUTMAN: So you know, if the election is between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and you would prefer Joe Biden to Trump, but you vote for a third party candidate, you know, that’s, that’s a vote that is not going to Joe Biden. So it’s effectively helping Donald Trump who you preferred less.
The spoiler effect is a common objection to third party voting.
DRUTMAN: In a time in which the elections feel like incredibly high stakes contests, a lot of people do not seem eager to throw away their vote. And as a result, you don’t see strong candidacies for third parties, recognizing that it’s going to be hard to mount any sort of challenge and any sort of serious campaign under such conditions.
Advocates of the two main parties don’t want to lose voters that could tip the election one way or the other. Here’s Michelle Obama speaking at the Democratic National Convention.
MICHELLE OBAMA: Now is not the time to withhold our votes in protest or play games with candidates who have no chance of winning.
But many third party voters say that’s only looking at the short-term effect, instead of thinking long-term. Here’s Elias Gannage.
GANNAGE: Every election cycle, everyone says, This is the most important one ever.
In 2016, what if more evangelicals had voted third party instead of straight Republican?
GANNAGE: Maybe it would have meant Clinton would have won. And that would have had some major implications. But the next election cycle, the Republican Party would do a much better job of trying to court the evangelical vote.
Voting third party is usually a form of dissent or protest. Gannage hopes his vote, and others like it, will spark change.
GANNAGE: To abstain from voting for one of the two parties and voting for a third one is communicating dissatisfaction in the candidate and saying, well, you need to do something different.
At the end of the day, Dennis Lowe says it depends on what you want to do with your ballot. You can vote as a political statement. You can vote for the person you think is most qualified, or the one you agree with the most, or the one with the best shot at winning.
LOWE: Because there’s that descriptor in front of vote, your vote, right? So it’s, it’s yours to cast however you want.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen.