Even in Third Place, Libertarian Party Has Significant Impact in Elections

“As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.” – Preamble to the Libertarian Party Platform

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson was the 2012 Libertarian Party candidate for President of the United States. Johnson placed third in the general election, garnering over 1,275,000 votes; the next closest finisher — Jill Stein of the Green Party — received less than 500,000.

The success and growth of the Libertarian Party reflects a corresponding decline in registration of voters aligning with the Democratic and Republican parties. Libertarians have party affiliates in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They claim to be the only party outside of the Democrats and Republicans to own a permanent national headquarters.

Libertarian Party Chair Nicholas Sarwark expressed in an email interview for IVN that it is the party’s goal to have at least 1,000 Libertarian candidates across the country in the 2016 election. Its presidential nominee will be decided at the party’s national convention, which will be held in Orlando in May 2016.

Improved ballot access, according to Sarwark, is also a key objective for the party’s future as well as a fundamental challenge:

“The biggest barriers we face are discriminatory ballot access and election laws written and enacted by old party politicians who are so afraid of political competition that they will deny choices to the citizens.” – Nicholas Sarwark, Chair of the Libertarian Party

Unlike Republicans and Democrats, third-party candidates must collect thousands of signatures to even appear on the ballot in many states. The Libertarian Party is working to reform these restrictive laws, and “to do the hard work to put our candidates on the ballot in spite of the obstacles in front of them,” says Sarwark.

The widespread organization of the Libertarian Party affords these efforts. As Sarwark describes: “

But the party’s impact is not limited to ballot success. Libertarian positions are becoming more popular with voters, explained Sarwark.

“This is both good for the growth of the Libertarian Party, as well as pushes the old parties to adopt libertarian positions to slow their loss of voters,” he said.

Winning isn’t everything – an ideological shift can advance the Libertarian cause without a clear win on Election Day.

“The end result is more freedom for the American people,” Sarwark added.

If the Libertarian Party can achieve this outcome, they will have reset the bar that other third parties strive to reach.

This is a critical concept that the American voter should understand. A vote is never wasted; even a vote for a losing candidate sends an important message. In this sense, the over one million votes cast for Gary Johnson in 2012 must still resound in the offices of all aspiring political candidates, as well as the halls of Congress.

“Without political competition, the old parties won’t change,” argues Sarwark. “They will continue to recite platitudes and put up the same tired candidates.” The Republicans and Democrats are not held accountable for their actions, which according to Sarwark include “running up the national debt, sacrificing our men and women in overseas wars, [and] locking up a generation of young people in pursuit of a failed war on drugs.”

According to its website, the Libertarian Party is the only political organization that respects the individual and recognizes the importance of the responsibility we all share to preserve America’s heritage. “Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom,” is their mantra.

The road to 2016 is still a long one, and contrary to what we are often led to believe, the path to the presidency is not exclusively a two-party storyline. Agree or disagree with its positions, the Libertarian Party has a real impact on the American political environment. Each vote matters far beyond the simple math.