Presidential elections have a habit of inciting a special type of vitriol not normally attributed to the potentially more impactful, but certainly less acknowledged local elections. Through dividing discourse, frequently backed by our impassioned ignorance, we candidly support our candidates and seek to discredit the others. Fear and hope primarily drive this process — fear that our candidate’s opponent will certainly destroy our current way of life, and hope that if only our team could win, things would finally be the way they should be. While this line of thinking is not entirely irrational, comfort might be found through an understanding of limits to presidential power.
Every four years, we are given the opportunity to experience these anxieties all over, but we are also given a great tool that provides every eligible citizen the power to choose. Conversations regarding voting rights seem to always begin and end with “responsibility.” The act itself requires all abled citizens to make the most of the democratic freedoms bestowed upon them by making an appearance at the polls and casting their vote. This is, after all, their responsibility as engaged contributors to society. Following the event, “I voted” stickers proudly placed adorn lapels and ensure co-workers that the deed has been done.
In the months that follow, responsibility again arrives on the shoulders of the voter, but its post election burden comes with a less welcoming reception. Transgressions, disagreeable political practices and the lack of positive change on the part of one’s winning candidate trickle down toward the voter base that initially supported them eliciting accusations of fault and “I told you so” snarls from the rival party; an unpleasant position that half the country finds themselves in. Worse only, might be the position of the non-voter who is commonly told to stifle opinion simply because they chose not to exercise their rights on election day. With the blue vs. red team attitude many voters espouse, these incoherent determinations of duty and the unjust attachment of a politician’s misdeeds to the discernment of their constituents has caused many frustrated Americans to pursue other options.
Enter your third-party candidates — largely unknown by face or name to a significant portion of voting-age Americans and nearly winless in major, modern elections. It’s no secret that a two-party system dominates the American political sphere, and this has a growing population of young voters pushing for a third party model at a historically unprecedented rate.
After witnessing the debaucherous 2016 election that followed the exhausting campaigns of the two most disliked candidates in American history, this yearning to hear the voices of different party platforms should be well understood. Voters want to be excited about the names they see on the ballot, and a choice between what many considered in 2016 to be the lesser of two evils provided barely enough enthusiasm to wait in the long lines.
It is then clear that paving the way for diversity in choice must be the next route forward, but the way in which we accomplish this feat remains a topic of contention. Many assume that checking the box for their third-party candidate come election day provides a strong enough message toward shaping change. Making noise this way does not go unnoticed, but given the current political climate, this tactic will do little to cause real change.
The state of Utah surprised the country by giving over 20 percent of its votes to a third party candidate, sending shockwaves through the obscure vaults of Wikipedia and solidifying Evan McMullin’s place in history as a statistical oddity and not much else.
Change needs to take place well before election day. A vote for a third-party candidate, without substantial support elsewhere, often times only bolsters the success of the less desirable of the two “evils.” If you find yourself arguing cable news programs are trying to shut out the voice of your candidate because they were not invited to the most recent debate, realize that preventing this requires prior action. Grass-roots campaign efforts, as tedious as they can be, will be required, and many will seem fruitless at first. The actual vote placed on election day will be the pay off for years of sweat and sacrifice, not a shot in the dark followed by hopeful finger crossing. We need to shift away from making a vote based on personal peace-of-mind. Often behavior like this, and what I can only assume was used to justify those who wrote-in candidates not on the ballot in 2016, is a justification of making the “moral choice.” In most cases, this gesture provides nothing of substance, and while within the rights of the individual, it is essentially a selfish act of symbolism. Just as important as the right that guarantees voters the privilege to participate, so is the potential to cause actual change