Voting For A Third PartyIs a waste of time, at least for now
I am not a fan of third parties. Voting for a third party is akin to voting for one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, minus the childhood nostalgia. Instead of running candidates with the same chance of winning as the sun has of suddenly exploding, third parties should put all their efforts into changing the way we vote. For the most part, U.S. elections are conducted using the first-past-the-post system (FPTP), where whoever gets the most votes wins. There are two alternatives to the current voting system that can potentially help third parties: proportional representation (PR) and the alternative vote (AV).
The most optimistic choice for third parties is proportional representation. Under this system, if a party receives 23% of the national vote, they would get 23 seats in a hundred-seat national legislature. It is the most democratic voting system, but it also has some major flaws. Constitutional issues aside, PR has been instrumental in electing nationalist and xenophobic politicians. In the 2009 European Parliament elections, for example, two members of the ultranationalist British National Party (BNP) were elected. In elections for the British Parliament, however, where FPTP is used, the BNP have consistently failed to secure a seat. This brings us to the less controversial but more confusing alternative to FPTP.
The alternative vote (AV) is the most realistic possibility for third parties. Under AV, a voter who wants to support the Greens or the Socialists, but routinely votes Democratic in fear of wasting his or her vote, can write a “1” next to the Green Party candidate’s name, a “2” next to the Socialist’s name, and “3” by the Democrat. When the polls close, a round- by-round election commences. If your first preference is fails to cross a certain threshold, your second preference is used, and so on. This system, which was used to elect the current mayor of San Francisco, will alleviate the fears that voting for a third party will elect a candidate from the “other side.” The problem with AV is its complexity. Last year, British voters rejected AV by overwhelming numbers. To convince voters in individual states to support AV in a referendum, third parties will have to make a cogent case for it.
The Democrats and the Republicans will understandably unite against it, and flood the airwaves with ads urging voters to reject AV.
Of course there are other options. Under California’s system, Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, Socialists and Maoists all vie for two general election spots in an open primary. This led to the costly, brutal, and unnecessary general election battle between progressive congressmen Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, who have been pushed to seek the endorsements of prominent Republican congressmen like John McCain in order to gain an advantage. Third parties can also advocate to expand the standard runoff system into more states: if no candidate wins a majority in the general election, the top two candidates face each other a few weeks later. However, more likely than not, the two candidates in both of these scenarios will be a Democrat and a Republican.
While I feel at home in the Democratic Party, I can understand why some to the left of me don’t. Only when the system of voting is reformed will the average voter have enough confidence to cast a ballot for a third-party candidate. But until this happens, put away your Jill Stein bumper sticker and vote for Barack Obama.