Primary voting discourages alternative political ideologies

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By Alex Cocanig

Voters of the state of Illinois and students of the University will make their way to the polls Tuesday, March 15, to take part in the nomination process. Voters will decide who they believe should be the face of the Democratic or Republican parties going into the November general election.

Though they are routine processes in American elections, the primary nominations contribute to a much larger problem that some would say is of utmost concern: the need for more political parties in this country.

The United States has been historically dominated by several versions of the same two parties we have today. There have been instances where these parties have factionalized along ideological differences and third parties have been declared as a result thereof, such as the Know-Nothing “American” Party and Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose “Progressive” Party. These parties enjoyed limited success and reflect the similar struggles of alternative parties over a century later.

Since the early ‘90s, the emergence of native, alternative parties has been increasingly important in presidential elections, and rightfully so. One of the most notable was Ross Perot’s Reform Party campaign in the presidential race of 1992. The Reform Party gained nearly 20 percent of the popular vote, but not a single electoral college vote, rendering Perot’s campaign a waste. Though the popular vote does not determine who becomes president in the United States, it is very concerning that a third party with significant support like Perot’s is essentially tossed aside in our “free and fair” elections.

Even more troubling is the fact that, while third parties usually don’t receive a majority of the popular vote, 60 percent of Americans feel that a third party is needed in presidential elections, according to a September 2015 Gallup poll. The same poll reveals that, since January of 2005, less than half of Americans feel the two major parties are doing an “adequate job,” with that number dipping as low as 26 percent at the end of 2013. http://www.gallup.com/poll/185891/majority-maintain-need-third-major-party.aspx

If a majority of voters are dissatisfied with the two-party system, why don’t they vote accordingly to change it? The answer is complicated, but American ignorance and apathy regarding third parties is rooted in the structure of our electoral system.

In order to actually appear on the ballot, candidates must file the proper paperwork in each of the 50 states just to have access to the respective electoral college votes offered in said states. For Democrats and Republicans with millions of dedicated voters willing to sign the petitions, seemingly unending financial resources and paid campaign workers, this is a fairly easy task that is repeated every election cycle. For grassroots parties like the Libertarian or Green, the task is considerably more difficult and time-consuming.

Even with ballot access, most voters see the names of alternative party candidates for the first time when they actually go to the voting booth. Part of the struggle for these candidates is usually a lack of financial resources or campaign contributions.

A commonly suggested solution to the disparity in funding between major party and third party campaigns is to set a maximum allowed quantity of campaign contributions. With less funding, it’s likely that major party candidates wouldn’t have the overwhelming presence they do now.

But restricting donations (or donors) is not very capitalistic and is contrary to the theme of American politics. While campaign finance reform is still in the works and will likely take a painstakingly long time to accomplish, we as voters can use our power and certainly give donors reason to believe that alternative candidates are worth funding.

But for now, funding for third party candidates remains an issue. And this issue compounds itself into other problems, such as a lack of media exposure. Major television networks almost always cover the election with the focus squarely on Democrats and Republicans without mention of other, would-be significant parties. While we cannot tell the media who to report on, we can, through the power of voting, give them a good reason to treat other candidates equally.

Still though, many voters feel that a vote for a third party is a vote for the other side of the Democratic or Republican parties, essentially “wasting” a vote and letting the opposing party win. This philosophy discourages voting based on true beliefs and instead encourages voting based on a “lesser of two evils” mindset; a concerning idea that misconstrues the principle of democracy, that is, electing candidates that are representative of the people.

The only reason mainstream candidates receive the attention they do is because of popularity. By voting for alternative parties, Americans can call attention to the issues of the two-party system.

More votes for alternative parties gets them more media coverage and more financial support, increasing their importance in our election cycles.

Young people, and students especially, have the technological resources and mental capacity to research and learn about alternative candidates. The potential number of educated, young voters is significant enough to have a profound effect on the election, and an even greater effect on the two-party system if we vote independent.

Alex is a senior in LAS.

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