Understandably, readers of the IVN pride themselves on their status as… well… independent voters. Voters are jettisoning the Democratic and Republican Parties faster than you can say “record high unfavorable ratings.”
However, ditching the two-party system isn’t enough; it’s high time that we start joining and registering with third parties.
Now, this is the moment where I encourage you to put down the pitchforks, and hear me out. Though IVN champions the mantra of “people over parties,” registering third party helps break up the two-party duopoly in a number of ways.
It lets the two parties better understand how they lost your vote
Abandoning the party ranks and registering independent does make a statement about your dissatisfaction with the two-party system, but the action itself doesn’t send a clear signal. It is the equivalent of leaving a 1 star review on Yelp without any commentary explaining what went wrong with your experience.
Did you leave because your party abandoned your commitment to the creation of a “living wage” or are you concerned that a minimum wage hike will disproportionately impact small business owners? Should cannabis not only be legalized but significantly taxed to fund local community needs, or are you concerned that over-taxation will incentivize more black market activity? Does the Federal Government need to expand or reduce its role in the education of our youth, the regulation of commerce, and the legislating of morality?
Joining and supporting a specific third party – one that you are more ideologically aligned with – will help clarify that message.
Perhaps you are a disenfranchised Democrat or a “Bernie or Bust” progressive. You want to be excited about Hillary Clinton, but such an emotional state is difficult to achieve considering her precarious relationship to the financial sector, her hawkish foreign policy, and her questionable commitment to progressive causes. Registering with a more progressive party, such as the Green Party, can explain to Democratic Party leaders where the line in the sand is: Either develop a more progressive platform, or you’re never going to see me again.
The same goes for libertarian-leaning voters. Frustrated with the ideological disconnect between the Republican Party’s advocacy of limited government and their commitment to the expansion of the federal government’s role in surveillance, immigration, drug prohibition, and morality politics? Trade in your “R” for an “L” today.
Often times, after experiencing significant defeats, major parties will recalibrate their platforms by borrowing from the platforms of minor parties as an effort to attract you back to them. Make them grovel for your vote again.
It helps third parties break down barriers to being elected
Barriers to entry are abundant in the world of third party politics. Debates, town halls, polling, and other conventional political machinations often serve as gatekeepers that favor the two-party system and complicate everything else for third parties.
By registering as a third-party voter, you not only demonstrate interest in an emerging political movement not traditionally represented, but you also help third parties bypass the numeric barriers that keep them out of the public eye.
The best example of this benefit occurred this year in Colorado. Lily Tang Williams, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado, was not invited to the first statewide debate hosted by Club 20 in Grand Junction, CO. To be invited, candidates must be registered with parties who garnished over one percent of the voting electorate. Prior to the debate, the Libertarian Party of Colorado represented 0.977% of the electorate, missing the percentage threshold by 0.023%.
Thanks to social media, public outcry, and the outreach efforts of the party, over 1,500 voters registered with the Libertarian Party in a matter of weeks. The quick spike in party membership tipped Williams over the requisite threshold, forcing Club 20 to reconsider their initial snub. Williams made history as the first Libertarian candidate to be invited to participate in this statewide debate.
Aside from debates, states often place barriers to ballot access for minor parties based on their membership. For example, Pennsylvania requires that political parties have at least 15% statewide registration to appear on the ballot. The state imposes a $100,000 penalty on petitioning groups if it is discovered that they don’t have enough valid signatures – a hefty financial risk for any small political interest group.
Many of the barriers of entry were the result of the two parties working in collusion, and the only way to beat ‘em is to beat ‘em at their own game.
It encourages you to become more active in local politics
All politics are local – or so the popular phrase goes.
A common criticism directed toward third party campaigns is their need to focus less on national elections, and build their parties from the grassroots level first.
This is a ridiculous argument for two reasons: 1) national parties help build brand awareness that can help down ticket candidates, and 2) ballot access in some states is linked to the number of votes a party received in the previous election so parties would be foolish not to run national campaigns.
Regardless of the shortsightedness of the “local first, national later” strategy, it doesn’t hurt to get active in local government. Registering with a third party will connect you with other like-minded activists in your local community and state.
It will encourage you to attend more local meetings – such as city council, county commissioner, or school board meetings – and hold local representatives accountable. If your party has even a marginal membership, you gain access to the added clout that customarily comes with power in numbers. Better yet, it will encourage you to walk the talk, and run for office.
And your local participation can easily snowball into something bigger. A perk of third parties is the ease of access between the national parties and their smaller, local affiliates. With a little extra effort and dedication, joining a local county affiliate may lead to attending state and national conferences, volunteering for committee work, networking with national candidates, and shaping the party platform.
But none of this will happen unless you join or register with the party first.
If you have a possible party affiliation in mind, it will only take a few seconds of your time to join their ranks. Visit their websites to get an idea of how to become a member. Also, check with the department responsible for party registration in your state – usually, the secretary of state’s office – about changing your voter affiliation.
And if your state doesn’t recognize your party, do some research, connect with local activists, and get better acquainted with the barriers that are keeping your party down.
In the fight to topple the two-party system, it doesn’t hurt to raise a friendly flag to see who is already on your side.