This Election Year, More than Ever, We Need Third Parties
While gathering signatures to put Howie Hawkins, the Green Party presidential candidate, on the ballot in Virginia this November, I often came across Democrats who refuse to sign. 2020, apparently, is the most important presidential election ever, which means that no one other than Democrat Joe Biden should even appear on the ballot. Of course, the idea that this election is the most important one is a tired cliché. 2016 was supposedly the most important election of our lifetime. So was 2012, 2008, 2004, and 2000. Each election is so important – so integral to the success of American democracy – that there is not a single opportunity for any third party to participate ever. Sorry, maybe next time.
It is time to retire this cliché and recognize instead that this election year, more than ever, we need third parties. By we, I do not just mean those of us on the left appalled by Joe Biden’s rejection of Medicare for All, reductions in the military budget, or the legalization of marijuana. I do not just mean those who are fed up with the two-party system and its inability to reflect the diversity of views that voters hold. Rather, everyone has something to gain from supporting third parties this year. The two-party system encourages partisanship and negative campaigning which undermines rational decision-making and discourse. It results in captured constituencies that have no alternative channels through which to make their voices heard, resulting in their concerns going unaddressed. It limits public discussion to the options proposed by those two-major parties, ossifying debate into a black-and-white dichotomy. It results in a self-fulfilling prophecy in which dejected voters begrudgingly vote for the “lesser evil.” Shamed and browbeat into believing that third parties can never win, voters pick the two-major parties yet again, preventing third parties from winning and justifying another round of shaming and browbeating. At a time of uniquely high partisanship, negativity, and voter apathy, it seems that now, more than ever before, we need third parties.
Even just having the choice of voting for a third party can help break these patterns. Yet, third parties are forced across the country to meet increasingly difficult thresholds just to compete. We need hundreds of thousands of signatures from registered voters just to get on ballot lines, enormous fundraising just to get those signatures (and the Green Party takes no corporate or Super PAC money), and 15% in the polls just to get into the presidential debates that millions watch. We are systematically excluded from media coverage in all mainstream outlets, or ridiculed and smeared if we are covered. The pandemic is making all of this much harder for us, but no one seems to care. We sued Virginia to eliminate the signature requirement for this election only, but the court refused, forcing us to still get 2500 signatures in the middle of a pandemic. This is a major threat to our democracy, but it received next to no media coverage.
This sort of intense restriction and blackout can end as soon as enough voters demand to live in a real democracy, not just a pretend red-or-blue one. Of course, it is an uphill battle. Despite the best efforts of the two-party system, we did succeed in at least getting write-in votes for Howie Hawkins to count this year. Democrats will no doubt discourage people from voting their values and insist that anyone writing in Hawkins is “wasting” their vote. But in reality there is no time to waste voting for the same old parties that got us into this mess. This is, after all, the most important election of our lifetime.