Even though a third-party candidate has never won a modern-era presidential election, increasing frustration with federal party candidates has driven more voters to support alternative options.
Unfortunately, our voting system forces supporters of third-party candidates to jump through hoops just to cast a vote of equal value for someone who’s not a Republican or Democrat. If you’re uninformed, you could be left with no way to cast the vote you want to in our “democratic” system.
So, how does it all work?
Those with a modicum of political knowledge will know that part of the election system in the United States is registering. With online registration now available, you don’t even have to own a driver’s license to be registered. However, you might not know what the process is like for candidates.
Should you choose to run for office, you’ve got to declare a party. Many candidates, probably most of the ones you’re familiar with on a first-name basis, fight to earn the endorsement of a federal party. But what does one do if they want to run as a third-party candidate?
Get your warm-ups out because you’ve got some legwork to do. To make the nationwide ballot, you’ll need to collect just shy of one million signatures. Before you can even begin working on that small challenge, though, you’ve got to make it out of state primaries — we’ll discuss those shortly.
Make the primary ballot, and you’re faced with another challenge. Most states only allow third-party candidates to campaign at a single party’s primary. The spirit of this law is to keep people who can attend both primaries from voting twice, but its effect often leaves voters who haven’t done their homework out in the cold.
State Ballot Access Laws
So you have to collect a few signatures. That doesn’t sound too difficult for someone with their eyes on a job in politics, right? That’s true. However, no two states share exactly identical ballot laws. In some states, getting your name added is like pulling teeth. Remember, you can’t run for president if you don’t get through state primaries.
In Alabama, you need to collect a petition equal to 3% of the last gubernatorial vote saying that your party can be added to the ballot. No candidate has ever met the criteria for addition since this new stipulation was added in 1997. If they do, there’s a 20% poll required for them to remain on the ballot and an early deadline of March for petitions.
Georgia is another state with overly stringent ballot laws. Attempt to run for state legislature there (not president), and you’ll need a petition with 5% of the state’s registered voters. The last time such a petition was submitted was back in 1964 when the petition deadline was less aggressive. Now that it’s been moved from October to July, and the state has a larger population, it’s not likely we’ll see someone pull this off.
While more conservative areas have some easy laws to pick on, the truth is that not a single state exists where the process is simple. It goes to show why you see so few third-party candidates.
Is There Hope in Sight?
The American public seems to know that there is a need for reform to our voting laws, but it’s unclear whether the people will demand a fair shake for third-party candidates.
The conversation about voting reform typically centers on voter access. For example, the GOP closed 868 voting locations in the time between the 2012 and 2016 elections. Another controversial topic is ID laws, which disallow the use of identification methods such as student IDs, government employee IDs and public assistance IDs, instead of requiring a driver’s license, passport or military ID.
The immediacy of these types of issues makes them easy to call out when the topic of reform is brought up, but for those seeking a third-party candidate, many write the idea off as altogether unrealistic.
Until we change our perspective and believe that a third-party candidate might make a difference in a system not rigged against them, the only role that such candidates can play is to steal votes from federal party candidates. This turns third-party candidates into undeserving scapegoats. To bring about a change, we have to make this an issue all the time, not just on election days.
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