Why I’m Not Voting Third-Party

I wanted Bernie Sanders. Desperately. I have never hidden the fact that I find the two-party system disgusting and an insult. I am in all cases further left than the Democratic party. Elections can be tough for me since I rarely find anyone that has a platform nearly as left as I want it to be. Bernie Sanders was the closest to a match that I have ever witnessed. His burning berning up the primary circuit was a dream come true. His failure leaves a Bernie shaped hole in my heart that Hillary Clinton can never fill. Add on top of this the scandal around the Democratic National Committee and their treatment of Senator Sanders left me with a strong desire to seek a third-party candidate or to just skip the presidential portion of the election altogether. I was angry and I was ready to damn everyone with my vote.

Before I continue, let’s talk about how electing a president works in the United States. We have the Electoral College system. Instead of a nationwide popular vote, we vote for electors at the state level who then vote for the President and Vice President. Although a college of electors is not wholly unique to the United States, the US is the only example of an Executive President is indirectly elected. Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the US Constitution says:

Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the congress…

Article 2, Section 1 of the US Constitution ,
You can find my essay on the Electoral College here.

This is why every state gets at least three electors: one for each of their representatives and two for their two senators. The District of Columbia is a special case: they do not have representation in the Senate and only a non-voting representative in the House. The 23rd amendment to the constitution gives D.C. a number of electors equivalent to the least populous state. These electors total to 538: 435 representatives, 100 senators, and 3 special case electors for D.C. The only other modification to this procedure was the 12th amendment which created a separate ballot for Vice President after the fiasco that was the 1800 Presidential Election. It is possible, though completely improbable, that a President of one party and the Vice President of another party to be elected by the electors, which happened to John Adams in the 1796 election.

This system has been in place since the ratification of the constitution 228 years ago. As ridiculous as I find the system, it is the system in place. It is not – by any stretch of fantasy – going to be overturned between now and November. The system we have is the system we must play by. Voting “third-party” means to vote for someone not a member of one of the two major parties: the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. At the local level, this can be very effective. A simple majority or a plurality and you have your Green Party, Libertarian Party, or any number of other smaller parties placed in an elected office. The U.S. Presidential election, as previously mentioned, is an indirect election. Every state except Nebraska and Maine is winner take all. This is why we have such shenanigans as “swing states”. Win a state, get all of their electors. In order for a candidate outside of the Republican-Democrat duopoly to have a chance at getting just one electoral vote, they must beat the two parties to win a state. It has happened in the past, but not since 1968 when George Wallace won 5 southern states plus a North Carolinian faithless elector. The most successful third-party candidate in recent times was Texas billionaire Ross Perot. He received 19,743,821 votes – or 18.9% of the popular vote. A huge success, but he received zero electoral votes since he had won no states.

There is another barrier for other parties in the presidential elections: the aforementioned 12th amendment. This amendment did not just introduce separate ballots for the President and Vice President, it also introduced the necessity of having a majority to win. If a person does not receive more than half of the electoral votes, the election is considered undecided. In this situation, the president is elected by the House of Representatives from the top three finishers. The Vice President is selected similarly by the Senate from the top two candidates. This had happened during the election of 1824. Andrew Jackson received 99 votes from the Electoral College, but not the required 131 of 261. The House of Representatives then had to select who would become president. Jackson was shocked when the House voted to instead have John Quincy Adams as president despite Jackson winning a plurality of both the electoral votes and the popular vote. This situation occurred due to the collapse of the Democratic-Republican’s caucus system. The election was a four-way contest between four separate regional factions of the Democratic-Republicans. The lesson, however, is that more than two viable candidates running for president could result in an undecided election.

So what does this have to do with this year’s election? We have two unpopular candidates and this has left some people to seek alternatives from the main duopoly. The problem, as shown above, is that this is at best a wasted vote. If somehow a person running under a third-party was to win some states, we could find ourselves in a situation where the House of Representatives decides the election. Another problem arising from this is the fact that not many people will vote third-party. If a small portion of the electorate were to decide to vote third-party when they would have normally voted for one of the main parties, you cause a split and the result is a victory for the main party opposition. In my case, if I was to vote Jill Stein I would, in reality, be voting for Donald Trump.

This is the situation we’re in and no amount of wishing it away is going to change it. There are too many people that pay little attention to the news or political process to combat the two-party system. These people will vote Republican or Democrat. It is a small minority that will consider another option. There just isn’t enough to overcome the situation brought to us by the 12th amendment. For someone outside of the two powerful parties to have a chance, we need to fight for a new amendment to the constitution. An amendment that removes the electoral college system and implements a direct or some form of proportional election.

Because of this, I must vote for Hillary Clinton this November. What we need is to vote for people down-ticket that will push for a constitutional amendment to change our presidential elections.

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