Over 91 million ballots have already been cast ahead of election day, highlighting a record-breaking early voter turnout. All eyes have been on Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republican President Donald Trump but there are many voters filling out their ballots away from the spotlight, casting their ballots for third-party candidates.
Jo Jorgensen is one of these third-party candidates. As a member of the Libertarian Party, Jorgensen is considered one of the most prominent third-party candidates running for president.
For Collin Blanchard, a supply chain sophomore, Jorgensen is the candidate that he will be voting for in his first presidential election. He turned to third-party candidates after the first debate between Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.
“The performance between the two candidates … Joe Biden and Donald Trump live on the debates was simply just unprofessional, disorganized, and it was a trainwreck,” Blanchard said. "Frankly, I couldn’t ... believe that this is the system--this is the two candidates this country could produce to lead our nation as a whole.”
For Marshall Lipe, a statistics and sociology junior, Howie Hawkins put forward the policies that best align with Lipe’s own views. Hawkins is a member of the Green Party of the United States and is one of the more progressive candidates running for president.
Lipe feels that both the Democratic and Republican Parties put their own interests before the American peoples’.
“I believe that both parties are funded by their corporate interests--by money--and because of that they don’t always choose the path that is best for American people in general and people around the world,” Lipe said.
Medicare for all and the Green New Deal are two of the main proposals that Hawkins has shown support for, helping Lipe make the decision to support him in the election.
Lipe does not want to settle for a candidate that does not support the policies that are important to him. The idea of voting for the lesser of two evils is not appealing to him and he thinks that this does not ultimately allow for the opportunity for the best candidate to represent the people.
“I think that having peoples’ political opinions basically put into two different sections is just not a good way to have a political discussion and is not a good way to make peoples’ lives better,” Lipe said.
Blanchard shares Lipe's views on this election.
“I couldn’t bring myself to vote for somebody that I think is the … lesser of two evils,” Blanchard said. “I think that is fundamentally flawed. We shouldn’t be voting for somebody who we think can do the least amount of damage. We should be voting for someone that we think can compel the nation forward as a whole.”
With the current two-party dominated system, Austin Hunt, a sophomore at MSU, thinks that a third-party vote may alter the outcome for the two major candidates, while the third-party candidates ultimately have little chance at winning.
“Right now with the two-party system that we have ... third parties have virtually no chance at actually winning an election, and so when you vote for a third party ... you’re swaying the election one way by not voting for one of the two major parties,” Hunt said.
Blanchard believes that continuing the cycle of voting for the lesser of two evils largely helps keep the existing system in place.
“The only thing preventing us from having a third party--a candidate that maybe better represents the country as a whole--is this existing two-party system, and the only way to disrupt that is to vote, which is why I voted for third party,” Blanchard said.
A big reason that these third-party candidates are largely unknown may be because they often do not qualify for the debates that occur leading up to an election. A candidate must be polling at 15 percent or higher in five nationally recognized polls, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates. No third-party candidate has reached that threshold and been able to debate alongside Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.
Blanchard thinks that these restrictive policies keep third-party candidates from reaching a larger audience and gaining more traction.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Blanchard said. “You have these candidates that are largely grassroots and have messages that are radically different from what has been mainstream for the past 50 to 100 years, and there’s a decent chance that is the American public was exposed to these ideas ... that they could gain some traction.”
Lipe also feels that these requirements are beneficial to the two-party system and do not allow for much change to occur.
“It’s kind of those types of rules that restrict these candidates from getting any of the recognition that I think that they deserve; at least a place to say what they believe," Lipe said. "I think that’s why so many people feel like they are locked into the two major parties because they don’t really know anything about these other parties and their other candidates. I think it’s kind of set up that way.”
But for Hunt, these policies serve as a way to gauge the candidates that have a realistic chance at winning the election.
“If these people--these third-party candidates--if they were even going to have a chance at winning the election they would have made it to the debate stage,” Hunt said.
While Hunt will not be voting for a third-party candidate, he knows that the two-party system can leave many feeling unrepresented.
“I definitely think that the two-party system doesn’t always allow for people to vote for people that will 100 percent represent them,” Hunt said. “I think it kind of straps people in. It’s unfortunate to me that ... voting for a third party is often just wasting your vote because there’s never going to be enough people in a two-party system ... to allow a third-party candidate to perform as well as one of those candidates from the two major parties.”
The increasing polarization of today’s political climate continues to divide between party lines, leaving third-party candidates struggling to gain traction in an election many are already calling historic.
“American democracy only functions correctly if people ... educate themselves and vote based on hard facts and data,” Blanchard said. “We’ve become so polarized and so party-based that we run into this problem where people--they’re not even looking into the candidates anymore. They’re just choosing based on their own color--you know, red or blue.”
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