Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Amash's Candidacy Underscores Failures of the Two-Party System

Created: 29 April, 2020
Updated: 14 August, 2022
5 min read

It came as no surprise that not long after US Rep. Justin Amash announced his Libertarian bid for president, both major parties took aim at him. 

Amash points out that there are “[millions] of Americans who aren't represented by either Donald Trump or Joe Biden, who aren't represented by the Republicans or the Democrats.”

 “And those millions of Americans deserve a choice on the ballot. And it's pretty silly to say, well, we shouldn't allow another candidate to be on the ballot.”

However, President Trump mocked Amash, saying he likes him “even more than Jill Stein.” Meanwhile former Democratic US Sen. Claire McCaskill ridiculed his campaign, saying every anti-Trump vote needed to go to Biden.

To specifically quote McCaskill, “This is no time for a Ross Perot, or a Jill Stein, or a Ralph Nader.”

Sound familiar? That is because the rank and file of the major parties say that every presidential election. We cannot afford to have a third party candidate, they argue, because the outcome will be that the other side wins -- and then there goes the country we all know and love.

Amash is already being labeled a spoiler in the 2020 election, and he just barely launched his campaign’s website. And as much as third party and independent candidates try to escape this stigma, it is a reality under the electoral infrastructure in place in most states. 

The current system blocks meaningful competition at every level. Whenever there are more than two candidates in a presidential election, as FairVote CEO Rob Richie says, “our prevailing voting systems break down.”

The current electoral process ensures that it will never be the “right time” for any candidate outside the major parties to run for president. It will never be the “right time” to have a competitive election where voters choose the candidate they like over the candidate they think can win over the “greater evil.”

However, for pro-voter reformers like Richie, Amash’s candidacy underscores the need for broad systemic changes in the way we conduct elections, such as widespread implementation of Maine’s ranked choice voting system.

”Any system limiting voters to one choice inevitably leads to split votes and vitriol against so-called ‘spoiler candidates,’ said Richie in a statement following Amash's campaign announcement.

“The White House shouldn’t be won based on how the majority splits its vote, and voters should never have to choose between the candidate they think will win and the one that they want to win. Instead, ranked choice voting ensures that our elected officials more accurately reflect their constituents.” 

A reform like ranked choice voting would allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate garners a majority of the vote, the backup preference of voters who cast a ballot for the last place candidate will be re-distributed until a single candidate has a majority.

FairVote, the nation’s preeminent advocate for ranked choice voting, is not the only organization pushing for a better alternative to the choose-one method that leaves millions of voters unheard in the democratic process. 

The Center for Election Science, for instance, advocates for approval voting, which would allow voters to choose as many candidates as they want on the ballot:

Then, there is the Equal Vote Coalition, which advocates for STAR (Score Then Automatic Runoff) voting. Voters rate each candidate on a scale of 0-5 stars, and among the top two scoring candidates, the one preferred by the most voters wins. STAR voting will be used for the first time in a binding election in the Independent Party of Oregon’s 2020 primary in May.

Advocates of all these systems, though they disagree on the end-solution, understand that the choose-one voting method has failed to ensure accountability, fairness, and meaningful representation in elections. Outside candidates like Justin Amash simply pile onto the mountain of evidence that the two-party duopoly is failing US voters.

And it isn’t just how Americans vote: 

  • The presidential election cycle is largely dominated by the nomination processes controlled by the two major parties -- all the way until September.
  • The presidential primaries help the two parties control the political narrative, which they maintain a firm grasp on by preventing even a third candidate from appearing on the debate stage.
  • As already addressed, the major parties portray third party and independent candidates as agents for the other side (or even foreign entities) to steal the election for the other party.
  • Consultants of the two major parties control public polling, thus further influencing public opinion and the national narrative.
  • Independent and third party candidates generally have an exponentially higher financial and signature gathering burden to get on the ballot.
  • The two parties have the most control over cash flow in presidential elections, ensuring their campaigns have a monumental financial advantage.

And this just barely scratches the surface. However, these issues and more come to the forefront of the conversation when a prominent third party or independent candidate like Amash enters the presidential election 

The opportunity for reformers is that their movements become even more relevant:

  • Primary reformers continue to push for nonpartisan and open systems to ensure all voters and candidates are part of the conversation from the very beginning of the electoral process.. 
  • Campaigns are emerging and growing nationwide to implement new voting methods like ranked choice in statewide and presidential elections.
  • A lawsuit in federal court is challenging the rules that exclude third party and independent candidates in presidential debates.
  • Voters are becoming increasingly aware that though they largely say a third party is needed to add competition to US elections, such meaningful competition is impossible under the current laws and rules that govern the process.
  • Organizations are raising awareness of the role money in politics has and the need for fairness, accountability, and transparency.

The parties, their pundits, and talking heads may say now is not the time for a third party candidate to enter the presidential race, but that script will never change. It will always be a zero-sum game where the party either wins or everyone loses, and any attempt to add meaningful competition will only jeopardize the country's future even more.

However, the momentum for change has never been stronger. More Americans than ever are part of the growing movements to transform the political process from one that serves a duopoly, to one that serves voters. But these movements need more support to enact lasting change.

Perhaps now more than ever is the time for a candidate outside the Republican and Democratic Parties -- a candidate who may have no shot at winning, but can further highlight all the systemic problems that prevent real competition in US elections.