It’s that time again here in the USA… the time when everyone is talking about the upcoming Presidential election. And, as is the case pretty much every year, there are those people out there talking about how they don’t like any of the candidates, but the system is flawed because you have to vote for one of them, and voting for a third party candidate is throwing your vote away and/or helping the candidate you don’t like to win. This year, this conversation is coming up more often than ever, because of the staggering unpopularity of both major party candidates.
Some disclaimers first: What I’m writing here assumes that elections are not rigged. I’m sure that some are, but I want to believe that this is a vast minority of cases. Also, I recognize that at the time that the USA was founded, the definition of “people,” in the sense of who was eligible to vote and make decisions about government, was much less inclusive than it is today. That is not particularly relevant to the discussion about what is happening now, though. Finally, I apologize to my readers outside of the USA, because this discussion may not apply to your systems of government.
There are valid complaints in this line of discussion. But there is something else that many of us seem to have forgotten (as I have written about before): Our government exists only by the consent of the governed. If the system is flawed, that is because people put that flawed system in place, or, more likely, people stood by apathetically and did nothing while those who stood to benefit from the flawed system put it in place.
Every single elected official in this country was put in power by voters. And every single elected official is held accountable for their actions when they come up for reelection. The main reason that so many of those incompetent NTACs keep getting reelected is because their constituents find the status quo less detestable than the alternative.
I think what bothers me the most about this kind of discussion is the line of thinking that a third party candidate cannot win. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. No one votes for third-party candidates because they believe that they cannot win, and they cannot win because no one votes for them. Third-party candidates have won states in the past, often when they hold a particularly strong following in one region of the country, which usually occurs because of one specific issue. (This happened most recently in 1968; sadly, the issue in question was racial segregation.) The third-party candidate came in second in 1912, and some consider Abraham Lincoln a third-party candidate when he won in 1860, because the Republican Party had not yet been established as the second national party after the breakup of the Whigs. Some say that third-party candidates never get votes because the mainstream media never pays attention to them. But this is a time period when the mainstream media is less relevant than it has been in years. If some no-name lady in a Chewbacca mask, hundreds of foul-mouthed douchebags and douchebaguettes, and dozens of funny-looking cats can all get millions of followers on the Internet, then surely political candidates out of the mainstream can do the same. The reason it doesn’t happen all comes down to what I said earlier: too many people don’t care.
If a third-party candidate does win states in an election where the two major party candidates are running close (which has the potential to happen this year), this opens the possibility that no candidate will win a majority of the electoral vote, invoking the Twelfth Amendment and sending the election to the House of Representatives, where each state’s representatives will get one collective vote per state, from among the top three candidates. This is not an archaic vestige of the past; it was designed on purpose, so that compromises and negotiations could happen among the elected representatives. Each state is different, geographically and culturally, and each state should be different. The Electoral College and the Twelfth Amendment were designed purposefully as part of this feature of our nation. This kind of compromise, integral to our nation’s history, is sorely lacking in today’s political climate; once again, the reason for that is that the politicians who refuse to compromise keep getting reelected by people who don’t care, who see ability to compromise as a weakness.
I may be sounding like an idealist here. But I still believe in the ideals of our nation’s government, and I hope that more people will learn about these ideals so that they will too.