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Third Parties

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Published: Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2016 17:20:55 -0500


Al Gore Wouldn't Have Invaded Iraq, Third Parties are a Threat to Democracy, and Other New York Times Delusions

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 13:01:00 -0500

According to Gail Collins' latest column in The New York Times, Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election and thus enabled the Iraq War because unlike George W. Bush, Gore would have never invaded Iraq. "Case closed," Collins so authoritatively puts it. While attacking 2016 Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein for her quixotic campaign demanding recounts in crucial swing states lost by Hillary Clinton by very small margins, Collins outdoes herself in dispensing conventional wisdom that wilts under just the barest of scrutiny. Collins muses that "it's definitely possible" Clinton could have received every vote that instead went to Stein and seethes at Stein's insistence that most people who voted for her would have just stayed home without the Green Party on the ballot. Collins writes: We had heard something similar from Ralph Nader, whose presence on the ballot in 2000 probably cost Al Gore Florida, and the presidency. On many of Nader's issues, Gore was not great. But the point of the American system of democracy is that in the end, you often have to take the responsibility for choosing the better of two unlovely options. And if Gore had been elected, we wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Case closed. Hoo boy. First off, Ralph Nader may have earned far more votes in Florida than Gore would have needed to defeat Bush (and thus, win the presidency) in the Sunshine State, but more than 12 times as many registered Florida Democrats voted for Bush than Nader. Further, Gore didn't even win his home state of Tennessee, which if he had, would have been enough to win the presidency and make Florida's tally irrelevant. But just like in 2000, when Democrats and sympathetic Top Men and Top Women in media refused to consider Gore ran a terrible campaign, Collins and others want to pin Donald Trump's stunning electoral victory on disobedient voters who rejected the two-party duopoly which produced the two least popular candidates of all time. Examining exit poll data in the wake of the 2016 election, I noted the lack of enthusiasm for either major party candidate among third party voters: CBS News' exit poll posed the hypothetical question of who third party voters would support if the race were only Clinton and Trump, and both [Libertarian Party candidate Gary] Johnson and Stein supporters appeared to support Clinton over Trump by about 25 percent to 15 percent. But 55 percent of Johnson's supporters would have just sat out the election, as would 61 percent of Jill Stein supporters. According to New York Times exit polling, a whopping 63 percent of voters who declined to cast their ballot for the two major party candidates said they would have not voted at all in a two candidate race. Second, it's a howler that Collins is so certain ("Case closed") Gore wouldn't have invaded Iraq, considering he was one of the few Senate Democrats to vote in favor of the first Gulf War, uber-hawk Joe Lieberman was his running mate, and he had spent his entire legislative career as a liberal internationalist consistently supporting military interventions on humanitarian grounds. Gore also defended air strikes in Iraq as Vice President and, as a candidate for president, supported the U.S. policy of removing Saddam Hussein from power which President Clinton made official with the signing of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. Reason's Matt Welch also found some evidence straight from Gore's mouth boasting of his hawkish bona fides: In 1996, when Republican nominee Bob Dole criticized Clinton for lobbing cruise missiles into Iraq, Gore retorted, "Sometimes the U.S. has to take unilateral action when our interests are at stake." In May 2000, speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference, Gore bragged on being an Iraq hawk and stressed that "it is our policy to see Saddam Hussein gone..." We can play "alternative history" games all day, but it arguably makes less sense to insist Gore would definitely not have invaded Iraq as it would to declare the opposite. Finally, is it really "the point of the American system of democracy" to[...]

Bernie Sanders Got Nearly 6 Percent of the Vote in Vermont, Even Though He Wasn't Running

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:35:00 -0500

How much dissatisfaction was there with the major parties' presidential candidates this year? Enough that we're likely to hit a popular-vote milestone not seen since 1980 and an electoral-vote milestone not seen since the 19th century. Enough that in one state, someone who wasn't even on the ballot collected nearly 6 percent of the vote: • Bernie Sanders finished third in Vermont, with 5.68 percent, even though he wasn't running. All sorts of non-candidates picked up write-in votes in Vermont, including seven ballots for Willie Nelson, one for Louis CK, one for Richard Nixon, and one for "R. Paul." (Rand, Ron, and Ru can fight it out for that one.) Either two or three ballots were cast for God, depending on whether you include the vote for Jesus; I'll let the theologians debate that one in the comments. But the big write-in success was Vermont senator and former Hillary Clinton challenger Bernie Sanders, who got 18,218 votes—18,219 if you count the person who wrote in both Sanders and Joe Biden. That's 5.68 percent of the state's total, more than either Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party (3.14 percent) or Jill Stein of the Greens (2.11 percent). Sanders, you'll recall, ceased to be a candidate before the Democratic convention and spent much of the fall campaigning for Clinton. • Jill Stein has now surpassed 1 percent of the national total. When I last posted about the third-party results, Stein had .96 percent of the national total. Since then her tally has risen to 1.02 percent. If that holds, two third-party candidates will have surpassed 1 percent this year. (The other is Johnson, whose share now stands at 3.28 percent.) That may not sound significant, but it is exceptionally rare. The last election where two different alternative tickets managed to do that well was way back in 1980, and the last one before that was in 1948. To find a third example you need to go all the way to 1916. • Chances are high that one or more alternative candidate—or non-candidate—will show up in the Electoral College totals too. Before Election Day, a Democratic elector in Washington declared that he would not vote for Hillary Clinton even if she carried the state. Another elector in the same state was publicly mulling a similar protest. There was a lot of debate about whether they would actually stick with such a plan if it meant handing the election to Trump. Well, that debate is now moot: Trump appears set to carry the Electoral College no matter what the Washington delegation does. And the Democratic slate did win Washington. So there's a strong chance that we'll see two Democratic electors defect to Sanders, Stein, or someone else. (There is also at least a small chance that one or more Trump electors will refuse to vote for the Republican nominee.) It isn't unusual for a solitary elector to break with the pack this way. That's happened in six of the last 12 elections. But it's extremely unusual for more than one member of the same Electoral College to vote for a presidential candidate other than the one they're pledged to support. That hasn't happened since the 19th century. • Who finished last? Enough with the alternative candidates who did unusually well. Who did really, really poorly? Strictly speaking, last place is a vast tie between a bunch of write-ins. But limiting ourselves to the candidates who actually appeared on the ballot, the person presently bringing up the rear is Frank Atwood of the Approval Voting Party, whose platform holds that you should be able to vote for as many different candidates as you like. According to the U.S. Election Atlas, Atwood currently has just 335 votes. Atwood himself might not be among them: Last October he told the Littleton Independent that he "will most likely be voting for Gary Johnson."[...]

Did Gary Johnson and Jill Stein Voters Cost Hillary Clinton The Election?

Wed, 09 Nov 2016 14:05:00 -0500

Now that Donald Trump is president-elect, despondent Hillary Clinton supporters need someone to blame. Of course, they could blame the Democratic Party for willfully tipping the scales in favor of ensuring the nomination of a candidate who The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald aptly described as "a deeply unpopular, extremely vulnerable, scandal-plagued candidate, who — for very good reason — was widely perceived to be a protector and beneficiary of all the worst components of status quo elite corruption." They could also blame the lack of enthusiasm for either candidate, which produced a far lower-than-expected turnout, particularly in swing states. They could blame the fact that Clinton only won 65 percent of Latino voters—despite running against a candidate who has threatened mass deportation of undocumented immigrants whom he described as "rapists" and "criminals," and who promised to build a Mexican-financed wall on our Southern border. At least 27 percent of Latinos voted for...Trump! There were other voter problems Clinton ran into, which likely dwarf any effect third party voters had on denying her the presidency (not least of which because it's ridiculous to assume third party voters would automatically go to Clinton). According to CNN's exit poll data, Clinton won "union households" with 51 percent to Trump's 43 percent—a shockingly low number for such a historically Democratic base. Clinton lost independents 48-42 percent in favor of Trump (unfortunately, CNN doesn't list independent candidates in national data, offering only "Other/No Answer," which scored 10 percent of the independent vote). Clinton was only able to win voters under the age of 30 with 55 percent to Trump's 37 percent, while 8 percent of young millennials went into the the all-encompassing "Other" category. While Clinton won the group overall, it is highly relevant that the Democratic nominee lost 10 percent of self-described "liberals" to Trump, with 6 percent responding "Other/No Answer." But self-reflection is hard and blaming the deliberately marginalized voices of third party voters by the Democratic and Republican parties is easier. There's no shortage of available takes focusing exclusively on the fact that votes for third party candidates (mostly the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson, the Green Party's Jill Stein, and independent conservative Evan McMullin) exceed the differential between Trump and Clinton's vote tallies in a number of states, including some swing states. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow—who when Reason's Nick Gillespie's asserted on Real Time with Bill Maher that she was a Democratic partisan replied, "Dude, I'm not even a Democrat"—said of third party voters last night, "If you vote for somebody who can't win for president, it means that you don't care who wins for president." In Maddow's world, this isn't "punching down" at the tiny percentage of voters who rejected the two least popular presidential candidates of all time, it's that serious-minded independents should only ever vote for the two major parties they refuse to join. This thinking is in line with the conventional wisdom that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000 because of the razor-thin margin between the two major party candidates in Florida. Of course, such logic falls apart when you consider that almost 13 times as many registered Florida Democrats voted for George W. Bush as they did for Nader, and that liberals-for-Bush exceeded Nader's total vote by a factor of more than three. CBS News' exit poll posed the hypothetical question of who third party voters would support if the race were only Clinton and Trump, and both Johnson and Stein supporters appeared to support Clinton over Trump by about 25 percent to 15 percent. But 55 percent of Johnson's supporters would have just sat out the election, as would 61 percent of Jill Stein supporters. According to New York Times exit polling, a whopping 63 percent of voters who declined to cast their ballot for the two major party candidates said they[...]

Where the Third-Party Candidates Were Strongest

Wed, 09 Nov 2016 11:55:00 -0500

Yesterday's presidential election produced the strongest showing in 20 years for third-party and independent candidates. Not all the ballots have been tallied yet, so some of the numbers below may be slightly off from the final totals. But at this point all the alternative candidates put together have received more than 5 percent of the popular vote. The leader of the second-tier pack, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, has (at this point in the counting) 4,012,871 votes, or 3.23 percent of the national total. That's much less than he was polling a couple months ago, but it's far better than any other presidential result in the party's 45-year history. It's also better than any other alternative candidate since Ross Perot's campaigns of 1992 and '96. On the state level, we didn't get to see some of the more extraordinary possibilities that had been tossed around before Tuesday. (No, Evan McMullin did not carry Utah.) But the second-tier candidates did do stronger in some places than others, giving us a map—multiple maps—of where our binary party system is doing the poorest job of representing the full spectrum of political opinion. Here's how the third-, fourth-, and fifth-place finishers fared across the country: Gary Johnson. Not surprisingly, Johnson did best in New Mexico, the state where he was governor from 1995 to 2003: He got 9.3 percent of the vote there (and in some counties hit double digits). He got 5 percent or more in seven other states as well: North Dakota (6.3 percent), traditionally third-party-friendly Alaska (5.9), Oklahoma (5.7), South Dakota (5.6), Montana (5.6), Wyoming (5.3), and Maine (5.1). He got at least 1 percent of the vote everywhere. His weakest showing was in Mississippi, where just 1.2 percent of the voters backed him. That's still more than double his total there in 2012. Jill Stein. As I write, Jill Stein of the Green Party has 1,192,344 votes, or about .96 percent of the national total. That's the Greens' best showing since Ralph Nader's campaign in 2000. Stein's highest percentage on the state level came in Hawaii, where she collected 2.9 percent of the ballots. She also managed to top 2 percent in Oregon (2.4 percent), Vermont (2.3), and—more surprisingly—Kansas (2.0). She did not outpoll Johnson in any state. Evan McMullin. McMullin, a conservative running as an independent, was on the ballot in only 11 states, so it's not surprising that he finished behind Johnson and Stein. (His total currently stands at 443,298 votes nationally, or .36 percent.) But he did very well in one of those states: He was a strong third in his native Utah, collecting 20.9 percent of the vote and finishing second in several counties. He also managed to get 6.9 percent in Idaho, the only other state where he beat Johnson. He didn't get as much as 2 percent anywhere else, though he managed to clear the 1 percent mark in Minnesota (1.8 percent), Virginia (1.6), Arkansas (1.2), Kentucky (1.2), and South Carolina (1.0). It is no coincidence that McMullin did best in the two states with the country's highest Mormon populations. The only other candidate who managed to get more than 1 percent of the vote in any states was Darrell Castle of the paleoconservative Constitution Party, who is currently pulling 1.3 percent in Alaska, 1.1 percent in South Dakota, and, more surprisingly, 1 percent in Hawaii. In Nevada, where voters have the option of voting for None of the Above, that option pulled 2.6 percent. Did these candidates tip any states from Clinton to Trump? I've already heard some ruminations to that effect from angry Democrats ready to replay their scripts from 2000, but it's a hard case to make. Johnson initially drew both disaffected Democrats and disaffected Republicans, but toward the end of the race the polls suggested that he was pulling much more from the Trump camp. (Of course, I don't blame you if you don't feel like trusting any polls right now.) And if these three candidates weren't on any ballots, a si[...]

The Green Party's Jill Stein: Why Choose Between a 'Fascist' and a 'Warmonger'?

Sun, 06 Nov 2016 13:00:00 -0500

The 2016 presidential race features two of the most disliked candidates in electoral history, which has given a boost not only to the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson, but to Jill Stein, a 66-year-old Harvard-trained physician from Massachusetts who's running on the Green Party ticket. "We have every reason to be terrified of Donald Trump in the White House," says Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. "But I don't think we should fool ourselves into thinking that we should sleep well at night with Hillary Clinton in the White House either. They're both dangerous and unacceptable in different ways." Stein is currently polling at about 2 percent, trailing Gary Johnson, who is on track to take about 4 percent of the popular vote. Stein, who sat down last week for an interview with Reason, says this election year presents an historic opportunity for third parties. "This is a realignment election," says Stein. "And you have this marriage of the Democratic and Republican parties now. And its important, I think, for Greens and Libertarians to be working together right now to just break through this stranglehold and be challenging them right out of the gate." Stein says that if only the U.S. were to adopt a new system of voting, Americans wouldn't have to make this choice between voting their conscience or the lesser of two evils. Stein and the libertarian Gary Johnson have a lot in common on topics like foreign policy, marijuana legalization, and same-sex marriage. But on economic issues, the two candidates couldn't be farther apart. For instance, Stein favors a single-payer health care system, which she claims would cost taxpayers nothing. She also says she would pour federal money into the clean energy sector and end our use of fossil fuels by the year 2030. Stein has been battling the perception that the Green Party is anti vaccine after she told the Washington Post that "there were real questions that needed to be addressed. I think some of them at least have been addressed. I don't know if all of them have been addressed" with regards to small amounts of mercury once found in childhood vaccines, despite a scientific consensus that there's never been a link between vaccines and autism or any other serious health problems. Stein calls the media coverage of her statements misleading and characterizes it as the "birther" issue of this election, claiming that she's only calling for reforms to the FDA, which she sees as corrupted by lobbyists. With the election just days away, both Johnson and Stein's poll numbers are slipping. One meaningful benchmark for both parties would be to win 5 percent of the popular vote. That would lead the Federal Election Commission to confer the classification of "minor party," which means they'd get easier ballot access and be eligible for matching public funds. "It's outrageous that people should be struggling right now with this questions of, 'Do I prefer a fascist or a warmonger?'" says Stein. Interview by Zach Weissmueller. Produced and Edited by Justin Monticello and Jim Epstein. Camera by Monticello and Alex Manning. Music by RW Smith. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]

Go Ahead, Throw Your Vote Away

Sat, 05 Nov 2016 06:00:00 -0400

I recently had a pleasant encounter with a great and outspoken American who, despite his libertarian leanings, supports Hillary Clinton for president. I congratulated him on making a tough call but allowed as how I was looking forward to casting my ballot for the Libertarian Party's flag bearers, Gary Johnson and William Weld. "It will be unadulterated pleasure," I offered, "as there is no opportunity cost." My correspondent fired back: "Opportunity cost is Trump gets elected." I stand by my recklessness. Here's where the curious nature of the American Electoral College comes in handy. Even where my vote—or the votes of my 100 closest, most easily influenced "inner circle"—might swing an election, there is simply no real chance that pushing either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton over the top in South Carolina, where I live, will determine the outcome of the presidential race. If Hillary wobbles to victory in my current state of residence, she would have already demolished The Donald in the Electoral College. Similarly, in Maryland (where our family lived until 2014), a squeaker for Mr. Trump would indicate that Ms. Clinton had been vanquished in a yuuuuuge landslide elsewhere. Now, it is extremely unlikely that any one person's vote will rock even one state's electoral outcome. In the closest state presidential election of the last half-century—New Mexico (no, not Florida) in 2000—the final margin for Al Gore came to 366. And even that did not swing the national prize. But set those slim odds of individual influence at the state level off to one (long-shot) side. Assuming that you live in a red or blue, and not a purple, state, you swing completely out of the loop. In its most recent election forecast, the prediction site FiveThirtyEight estimates that there is a 17.9 percent chance that Florida will decide the election (putting one of the candidates "over the top"). Next in line are Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the chances are 11.5 percent each, followed by Michigan at 8.7 percent and Wisconsin at 6.2 percent. When you account for North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Minnesota, Georgia, Nevada, and Iowa, you've eliminated all the states with as much as an estimated 2 percent chance to determine the outcome. Multiply that by the probability that one's own vote can throw one's state from Hillary to Donald or back, and the prospect that your vote will crown the next chief of state is neatly forecast as equal to 0.0. This safe harbor protects 67 percent of U.S. population, that portion living beyond the aforementioned swing states. This logic is not lost on the general public, which tends to vote for third parties more often in "one-party" states. Citizens realize that they are not trekking to the polls to cast the deciding national vote but to do their patriotic duty, taking pride in affixing an "I Voted!" sticker to their lapels and relishing the thought of canceling out some barbarian's vote (or their spouse's). But why not go commando and check the ballot for a person you'd actually prefer to see as president? In most states, the Electoral College makes this a guilt-free option. Consequential outcomes from individual presidential votes are so unlikely that Americans cast their chief of state endorsements while investing far less in research about their choice than the investigative effort they sink to select a smartphone data plan or their next Pokemon Go venue. This is straightforward: Decisions that affect actual results generally invite more attention than those that do not. It is called "rational ignorance." In another sense, it's liberating. Because your one tally will not change the nation's fate, you can afford to exercise your judgment worry-free. You are not at fault if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton should win. Meanwhile, you will have indulged your conscience. It is often said that voting third party is "throwing your vote away." It would be more accurate to say that[...]

Where Hillary Clinton is the Spoiler Candidate

Mon, 31 Oct 2016 12:10:00 -0400

(image) This weekend Donald Trump denounced Evan McMullin, an independent conservative candidate who's been polling well in Utah. After declaring that McMullin had gathered his overwhelmingly Mormon support by "going from coffee shop to coffee shop" (fact check: Mormons don't drink coffee), Trump declared that "if for some reason we lose Utah, that could have a very devastating impact" on his campaign.

That it could. Trump's been struggling in several swing states; the last thing he needs is to lose a place that's usually the most reliably Republican state around. And FiveThirtyEight currently gives McMullin a better shot at denying him Utah than Hillary Clinton has. He leads her in most of the state's recent polls, and he arguably has a better chance of picking up supporters from her column than vice versa. From the Clintonites' point of view, it would of course be ideal for the Democrat to claim the state's six electors. But if that's not possible, your average Dem would surely rather see McMullin collect them; at least that way they won't help Trump get the 270 electoral votes required to win.

So if you're a Democrat in Utah, who gets your vote? The fellow with a shot at blocking Trump? Or Clinton, the spoiler candidate?

Now if that Democrat asked for my advice, I'd tell him to vote for the person who's closest to his views. But I'm a guy who usually votes third-party. Every four years, I get an earful about how terrible this is, how I'm a foolish idealist who needs to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. (For the record: I don't think any of the candidates I voted for were perfect, and I don't think any of their major-party opponents were good.)

Well, now the shoe's on the other foot. If you're a Utah Democrat who has ever sneered that Libertarians and Greens vote immaturely—if you seriously believe that the grown-up thing to do is to hold your nose and cast your ballot for the lesser evil—then you'll have to think hard about how exactly their actions are different from voting for Hillary Clinton. If there's a serious movement from Utah's Democrats toward McMullin, he'll carry the state. If they stick with Clinton, Trump's chances of getting those six electoral votes are a lot higher.

It's no skin off my nose; I prefer Gary Johnson anyway. But I'll still take a little pleasure in being able to tell a Democrat, "Oh. So you're throwing your vote away."

Powerful: GOP Congressman Scott Rigell Video Endorsement of Libertarian Gary Johnson

Sun, 23 Oct 2016 11:21:00 -0400

src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> That's Scott Rigell, a Republican congressman from Virginia who broke party ranks to endorse Libertrian presidential nominee and former two-term New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson back in August. The mere fact of partisans such as Rigell splitting their votes is important, of course—it's a bold, even courageous example, and a necessary one for an era in which voter identification with the major parties is going down like the Titanic: . But Rigell's specific argument in the video is also important. In less than two minutes, he stresses that nobody has to accept the two unacceptable major-party candidates or the awful platforms they are espousing (protectionism, statism, overseas interventions, increases in the size, scope, and spending of government). There's a different way says Rigell. "We don't just have two choices. We have a third choice, a better choice....We can change things. We can change the system." Among the many ways "we can change the system" is by evacuating the duopoly in politics the same way that we've evacuated false binaries and harshly limited choices in all other aspects of our lives. We no longer allow, for instance, our options in automobilies to be dictated by the Big Three automakers and we're better off for it. On more important levels, we no longer our cultural choices to be forced on us by the three or four TV networks or a handful of book publishers, record labels, and film studios. When it comes to our most lifestyle choices and identities, we no longer submit to dualistic categories such as black/white, male/female, gay/straight as the only way—or even a particularly meaningful way—to structure our world. As Matt Welch and I argued in The Declaration of Independents, politics is a lagging indicator of where America is headed and always the last institution to change its ways. What we have been witnessing throughout 2016 is a damn-near perfect illustration of our thesis that the same sort of proliferation in choice and increasingly individualized options in our work, cultural, and social lives is coming to politics. Characters such as Scott Rigell are in the vanguard of that movement, if only because he dares to speak as a Republican what we all know to be true: The established parties can't even represent their own members any more. We need more, better choices in politics just as we needed them in cars and we'll get them sooner or later. And it's important to note that the push for more and better choices isn't simply limited to the historically string response to Gary Johnson this time around. The Bernie Sanders insurgency suggests that many in the Democratic Party feel cheated by that party's current iteration, as does a continuing lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton. That Trump won the GOP nomination is evidence of the same and so does relatively strong showing by late-to-the-race independent Evan McMullin and stronger-than-expected polling by Green Party nom Jill Stein. Something is happening here that is actually different than in the past, even though the winner of the 2016 election will be from a party founded before the U.S. Civil War. Former political consultant (he worked with both parties) and current ABC News analyst Matthew Dowd is framing a similar scenario to the one in The Dec. of Ind.: It is time we reject the messaging from the two major parties, and make choices in our own hearts that help bring the country together. If you don't feel good about either major party choice, then don't be shoved into choosing between what they describe as "the lesser of two evils." Make an independent and innovative choice that may not win this year, but over time will [...]

Will Maine Be the First State Where Voters May Rank Their Choices?

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 12:17:00 -0400

What if you really didn't have to accept that there are only two valid choices for a particular race, and your third-party vote actually mattered more than as just a protest? Maine voters may find out for themselves. On their ballot this November is Question 5, a ballot initiative that would institute ranked-choice voting for statewide positions like governor and for lawmakers on both the state and federal levels. In a ranked vote system, voters are invited not to just check off the box for their favorite candidate; they're allowed to rank each candidate in order of preference. If the winning candidate doesn't get a majority of the votes, there's an "instant runoff." The candidate with the least votes is dumped from the race and the votes are counted again. On the ballots of those who voted for the least-popular candidate, their second choice is now counted as their vote. If again the winning candidate still doesn't get a majority of the votes, the cycle continues until the top-ranked candidate doesn't get just the most votes but a majority of votes. No state here currently has such a voting system, but some cities do, and it's how Australia elects its lawmakers. Australia's complicated, preference-based voting system has resulted in several lawmakers who are members of smaller parties, including libertarian David Leyonhjelm. That is partly the intent of this system: To make it more possible for third-party candidates to break through the electoral duopoly, but only in situations where the majority of voters reject what the establishment offers. The editorial board of the Portland Press Herald endorsed Question 5 last week with the awareness that an increasing number of voters are refusing to identify as Democrats or Republicans: Our current system took shape when there were two strong parties that dominated the political process. Parties won elections by assembling coalitions and selecting candidates who had broad appeal. It was hard for fringe elements to break through. But even though Maine's political parties have been in decline for decades, they still have an outsized influence on the process. Nominees selected by the small number of committed partisans who show up to vote in June have enormous institutional advantages on Election Day in November. That puts the largest group of voters, those who are not active as either Democrats or Republicans, in a bind. They have no say in the selection of a party nominee, but they can't vote for a third-party candidate without risking a vote for a "spoiler" who fragments opposition and gives an extreme candidate a path to victory. What if, for example, you could vote for Gary Johnson as your first choice, but thought that Hillary Clinton would be much less dangerous as president than Donald Trump (or vice-versa)? You could make Johnson your first choice and Clinton your second. Thus, you'd be shutting down any arguments (or even your own fears) that a vote for a third-party candidate was ultimately helping Trump (or Clinton) win. Heck, given the unpopularity of Clinton and Trump and the way polls are going, it is likely that the winner in November will get a plurality of the votes, not a majority. A ranked system significantly favors third-party candidates in situations where voters are really unhappy with what the establishment has to offer. It's easy to imagine Johnson becoming the second choice for a good chunk of voters, and then imagine what could happen next if neither Clinton nor Trump gets 51 percent of the majority vote. It shouldn't come as a surprise then that Johnson supporter and former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is a big endorser of this kind of voting system. And he puts his activism where his mouth is: He's the chairman of the Board of FairVote, a nonprofit group pushing for more proportional voting systems such as Maine's proposed ranked-c[...]

The Other Way an Alternative Candidate Could Pick Up an Electoral Vote

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 13:30:00 -0400

Hillary Clinton is almost certain to carry Washington state next month. But she won't necessarily collect all of its electoral votes. Robert Satiacum Jr., one of the Democratic Party's slate of 12 electors in Washington, has been mulling in public about whether he can bring himself to vote for his party's nominee. He may yet fall in line, and he may simply give up his seat in the Electoral College. But there's a chance he'll cast his ballot for Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, or some other person not named "Clinton" or "Trump." This is the other way a minor-party candidate can eat into the major-party nominees' Electoral College totals: In 21 states, it is legal for a so-called "faithless elector" to ignore the popular vote and cast a ballot for someone else. So while we're pondering the possibility that Evan McMullin might carry Utah or Gary Johnson might pull off an upset in New Mexico, let's take a moment to consider this other scenario. After all, a third-party candidate hasn't won a state outright since 1968, when George Wallace carried five states in the South. But in six of the 12 elections going back to then, faithless electors have voted for alternative candidates—or, sometimes, for people who weren't actually running for president at all: • In 1968, Wallace didn't just win those five states; he picked up a vote from a Republican elector from North Carolina. • In 1972, a Republican elector from Virginia voted for John Hospers of the Libertarian Party, making this both the LP's weakest year (they got only 3,674 votes on Election Day) and its strongest (it's the only time the party has broken into the Electoral College). That elector was Roger MacBride, who went on to become the Libertarian presidential nominee in 1976. • In 1976, a Republican elector from Washington voted for Ronald Reagan, who had narrowly lost the GOP nomination that year to Gerald Ford. • In 1988, a Democratic elector from West Virginia thought that her party's vice presidential nominee, Lloyd Bentsen, was a stronger candidate than Michael Dukakis. So she cast her presidential vote for Bensten and demoted Dukakis to VP. • In 2000, a Democratic elector from the District of Columbia refused to cast a ballot at all, to protest the fact that D.C. doesn't have a vote in Congress. Since nobody got her vote, I consider this a moral victory for Wavy Gravy. • In 2004, a Democratic elector from Minnesota flipped the ticket and voted for vice presidential nominee John Edwards—or technically, since spelling was not this person's strong suit, for "John Ewards." (Also that year, New York's entire slate of electors accidentally voted for some guy called "John L. Kerry" rather than Democratic nominee John F. Kerry. But this was just a typo, and the votes were ultimately assigned to the correct Kerry, so unfortunately it doesn't count.) With Clinton opening her lead over Trump in the polls, it's very unlikely that a faithless elector will actually keep a candidate from accumulating the 270 ballots needed to win the White House. But that same lead may make it more likely for such electors to defect in the first place. Regular voters are probably more likely to back third-party or independent candidates when the election looks like it's going to be a blowout: If the lesser evil is either sure to win or sure to lose, you might as well give your support to a protest candidate instead. When the Electoral College votes, more than a month after Election Day, that effect may be magnified: These people already know who won the popular vote and whether the margin is close. A Clinton-hating Democrat like Satiacum—or a NeverTrump Republican, which isn't exactly a scarce species these days—would feel even less constrained from voting his or her conscience. So even if the alternative candidates don't manage to carry [...]

If Johnson Gets 5 Percent of the Vote, Would the Libertarian Party Take FEC Money?

Tue, 11 Oct 2016 14:20:00 -0400

If current polling numbers hold, the Libertarian Party could surpass an important vote share threshold come November. If Gary Johnson and Bill Weld receive at least five percent of the popular vote, they'll be officially classified as a "minor party" by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). If that happens, the Libertarian Party's candidate in 2020 would qualify for public matching funds based on how much of the vote they receive. At RealClear politics, Bill Scher takes note of the possibilities: If Johnson snags 5 percent of the national popular vote, the Federal Election Commission will classify the Libertarians as an official "minor party," granting the 2020 nominee a lump sum of cash for the fall campaign, courtesy of the American taxpayer. (And don't you think for a second that the vehemently anti-big-government Libertarians won't cash that big government check in a heartbeat.) The exact amount of federal funds depends on the size of his vote, but Green Party officials – who have been chasing 5 percent for years – estimate that meeting the threshold would yield about $10 million. That may seem like chump change compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars major party presidential nominees routinely raise. But Johnson has gotten this far after raising only $8 million through August. The prospect of knowing the Libertarian Party's nominee is guaranteed $10 million will allow him or her to hit the campaign trail running, improving the odds of getting into the debates, winning an even larger share of vote and fortifying the party's place in the American political landscape. Isn't it a little bit odd for Scher to assert what the Libertarian Party would do in a snarky parenthetical aside rather than simply contacting them to ask? Scher's hardly an objective observer of the election from his home at That's certainly no sin (read about my own lack of objectivity here), but it took me no time at all to contact the Libertarian Party and talk to party chair Nicholas Sarwark. The reality is, according to Sarwark, members of the Libertarian Party are not in agreement over whether to take the money, and it will have to be something hammered out if Johnson actually reaches the threshold. (Keep in mind this FEC fund Scher describes is made entirely from voluntary donations from taxpayers. The FEC notes in its guidelines "Money for public funding of presidential elections can come only from the Presidential Fund. If the Presidential Fund runs short of funds, no other general Treasury funds may be used.") "We would be delighted to have that conversation," Sarwark told Reason. "Right now we're just entirely focused on the election and having Johnson do as well as possible." In the event Johnson reaches the FEC vote threshold, Sarwark believes the most likely outcome will be that delegates to the Libertarian Party's 2018 national convention would need to hammer out a possible bylaw about whether a potential candidate should be permitted to accept the money. As a legal matter, Sarwark notes, it's the candidate who decides whether to take the money, not the party. So the bylaw would serve the purpose of attempting to bind a future candidate to the party's attitude toward whether to accept the grant. Another potential concern is that accepting the grant actually imposes a limit on fundraising by the candidate as part of matching these funds. While it might, at the moment, appear to be a boon for whoever comes after Johnson (it certainly was for Pat Buchanan following after Ross Perot with the Reform Party), if this Republican Party crack-up continues and more people see the Libertarian Party as an alternative, it actually might not be in the party's interest to tie themselves down this way. There's a reason the Democrats and the Republicans d[...]

CNN Accused of Bias Against Third Parties By a Post-Debate Focus Group Participant

Fri, 07 Oct 2016 13:00:00 -0400

During and after Tuesday's Vice Presidential Debate, CNN hosted a 28-person focus group of self-identified "undecided voters" at the University of Richmond (Va.). One of the participants in this group—Justin Smith—later complained on his Facebook page that CNN's Pamela Brown had asked the group if they now intended to vote for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or an unnamed third party candidate. In Smith's telling, two supported Trump, five supported Clinton, and 12 indicated they would vote for a third party candidate. But, Smith tells Reason, the producers then told the focus group they were going to "reshoot" the segment, only this time they replaced "third party candidate" as an option with "undecided." Smith says this caused confusion among the panel, leading some who had just raised their hands for "third party" to now raise their hands for "undecided." An important difference between the two questions: the cameras were only airing live on CNN during the "undecided" question, whereas the "third party" question was taped. Watch the segment that aired live—with "undecided" as an option as opposed to "third party"—below: src="" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Smith's Facebook post has caused a bit of a stir online, with accusations that CNN is censoring third party supporters to favor a narrative in which the only opinions worth considering are from voters who support Trump, Clinton, or have not yet decided between the two. The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald weighed in on Twitter this morning, offering his opinion that "If this account is accurate, it comes pretty close to actual fraud." Though he has a "Evan McMullin for President" poster as his Facebook profile cover page, Smith tells Reason he is an undecided voter, it's just that he hasn't decided which third party candidate he will vote for. He calls himself a constitutional conservative and insists he will absolutely not vote for Trump and Clinton. For a while, he had considered voting for Constitution Party candidate Darrell Castle, but he's not on the ballot in Virginia, so Smith is now on the fence between voting for McMullin or Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Smith says CNN producers told the focus group they would be taping certain questions as segments that might be used by CNN shows the next morning—a common TV news practice. Smith added that each of the questions they had been asked as a group had been taped twice. As a former cable TV news producer myself, I can attest that shooting more "packages" than you're likely to need is standard operating procedure. It's entirely possible that there was no nefarious intent on the part of CNN behind the creation of a taped package which included third party as a voting option. But the fact is, when the cameras went live, Brown didn't give the group the option of choosing a "third party." Live TV viewers were left with the impression that the majority of the focus group was undecided between Trump, Clinton, and no one else. "I was shocked that they would purposely not put it out there that people were supporting a third party," Smith told Reason, adding, "Intentionally covering that up...I can't imagine what their narrative is." CNN did not respond to requests for comment. Is it just an odd turn of events that the "undecided" question went out on live TV while the "third party" question went to tape? It's not clear whether the latter ever aired the next morning and I haven't been able to find a clip of it on CNN's website, but sometimes producers are left with more content than they can use. It's also important to note that CNN hasn't ignored third parties this election cycle; they have aired two Libertarian town halls in recent months, after all. However, edit[...]

Surveys Show Gary Johnson Appeal Growing Among Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White Millennials

Tue, 04 Oct 2016 14:45:00 -0400

Do third-party presidential candidates fare poorly with minority millennials this election? In recent national polls, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein have done relatively well with young voters overall. But using a series of recent surveys from GenForward, Mother Jones asserts that young black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans "are much less likely than their white peers" to support the likes of Johnson or Stein. If we frame the same data another way, however, we get a much more third-party-pleasing view: support for Johnson among young people of color has been steadily increasing since July. And their support for Stein, while static, has mostly matched that of their white counterparts, according to the GenForward surveys. GenForward, a joint project of the University of Chicago and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, is meant to track millennial political attitudes with atypical emphasis on including non-white participants. September respondents included 530 (non-Hispanic) whites, 517 Hispanics, 501 blacks, 261 Asians, and 42 folks from other racial or ethnic backgrounds, all between the ages of 18 and 30. The first month GenForward asked about Johnson and Stein specifically was July, with Johnson winning 8 percent of respondents overall and Stein 4 percent. In September, Stein remained at 4 percent but Johnson was up to 11 percent. It might have been small, but Johnson's bump was the biggest change in support seen for any of the candidates since July. In September, Hillary Clinton's share of millennial voters was up just one percentage point over July, from 35 to 36 percent, while Trump was down one point, from 19 to 18 percent. (Sixteen percent of respondents said they "probably wouldn't vote," 9 percent were still undecided, and 5 percent said they were voting for someone not named). And Johnson's appeal had increased among all racial/ethnic cohorts between the July and September surveys. Among white millennials he was up from 11 to 15 percent, among Hispanics up from 5 to 8 percent, among Asians up from 4 to 6 percent, and among blacks from 3 to 4 percent. We should avoid making much of these ethnic and racial breakdowns, however—the margins of sampling error in the GenForward surveys were quite high. In September, for instance, the sampling error was plus or minus 5.9 percentage points for blacks, 8.6 percentage points for Asians, 6.4 points for Hispanics, and 5.7 percent for whites. That means black support for Johnson could theoretically be less than 1 percent or stand at nearly 10 percent; that Johnson voters could account for less than 2 percent of Hispanic respondents or nearly 15 percent; and so on. For white millennials—who are the most likely to say they'll vote this November—the +/- 5.7 point margin of error could seriously close the gap between Johnson and Clinton or Trump, who each had the support of just 27 percent of whites in GenForward's September survey. The non-race specific data is somewhat more reliable, with the overall margin of sampling error here plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. One good sign for Johnson in this data is that the once-vast majority of young adults who didn't know who he was or had no opinion of him has become a much smaller majority. For millennials (of all races and ethnicities) surveyed, those with no view of Johnson went from 71 percent in July to 59 percent in September. His favorable rating over this period went from 18 to 25 percent, with his unfavorable rising as well, from 11 to 16 percent. Also of note to libertarians: forty-two percent of those surveyed said free trade agreements neither help nor hurt the U.S. economy, 36 percent that they're good for the economy, and[...]

Ballot Access: Another Way Dems and the GOP Screw Third Parties

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 10:37:00 -0400

"A multi-party system is normal," says Richard Winger, publisher and editor of Ballot Access News. "You only have a two party system if there's repression. It's not natural."

With both major parties offering up two of the most unpopular presidential candidates in modern history, many voters (and the media) are paying more attention to third party options such as Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

But while independent candidates are gaining in popularity, getting them on the ballot to vote for them can be a long and costly process.

"There's so many ways in which the United States is near the bottom of democracy," says Winger, an expert in election law and ballot access. "There's been unbelievable hostility in the last few months to minor parties."

This hostility has resulted in states changing their ballot access rules—sometimes at the last minute—in an effort to exclude minor parties from the ballot.

One recent example of this was Gary Johnson's fight to remain on the ballot as a presidential candidate in Ohio after the secretary of state threatened to remove his name thanks to a frequently used rule that allows placeholder candidates when fulfilling ballot access requirements (read more about the incident here.)

"Ohio law explicitly says people who use the independent candidate petition procedure put a substitution committee on the petition," states Winger. But when it came time to remove the placeholder name and add Gary Johnson's, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted "acted like he never heard of such a thing!" Winger exclaimed.

Johnson eventually qualified for the ballot as an independent candidate after his supporters turned in the necessary 5,000 petition signatures to Husted in late August.

"They act like the secretary of state did the Libertarians a big favor by letting them use this thing which has been used all along," Winger says. "It's just so maddening."

Reason TV recently sat down with Winger to discuss which states have the worst ballot access laws, why the major parties give independent candidates such a hard time when it comes to getting on the ballot, and the consequences of a two party duopoly.

"This is one the things that anchors me being a libertarian," says Winger. "Before the government got involved in printing ballots we had total freedom."

Produced by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Alex Manning and Paul Detrick. Music by Alex Fitch.

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USA Today Reporter Blows Jill Stein’s Cover; Candidate Arrested at Debate Site

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 17:47:00 -0400

Media fact-checking of the first presidential debate started before the candidates even arrived on Monday. Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, did not qualify for the debate (even though Monday's event undoubtedly would be improved by the inclusion of additional candidates like Stein and Gary Johnson) because she is not polling at 15 percent. Undeterred by the arbitrary rules set by the Commission on Presidential Debates, it appears that Stein intended to show up at the debate site anyway—until her cover was blown by a Eliza Collins, a reporter for USA Today. I'm pretty sure Jill Stein just boarded the media bus at the Hofstra University #Debates2016 — Eliza Collins (@elizacollins1) September 26, 2016 Stein told the newspaper in August that she was planning to crash the debate. She did the same thing four years ago, and the stunt ended with Stein handcuffed to a chair. USA Today reported that Collins' tweet "scrambled law enforcement officials" who tracked down Stein on the Hempstead, New York, campus of Hofstra University, where the debate is being held tonight. Stein's campaign says she was on her way to record an interview with MSNBC when she was "escorted off the campus." .@DrJillStein being escorted off the campus of #Hofstra: "This is what democracy looks like." #debatenight #Debates2016 — lancegould (@lancegould) September 26, 2016 The campaign is planning a protest with supporters outside the debate site tonight. "The Commission on Presidential Debates is trying to exclude myself and Gary Johnson from the debate on Monday night on the campus of Hofstra University," Stein wrote on Facebook earlier this week. "I'm going to be there anyway. The American public has a right to hear real debate about real issues affecting real people." Unfortunately for Stein, the area around Hofstra is teaming with more than 1,000 law enforcement officials and "and various checkpoints have been set up throughout the sprawling campus to avoid people without credentials from gaining access to secure areas, according to the Long Island Press. If you want to hear from candidates who aren't Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tonight, check out Reason's livestream with Johnson and his runningmate Bill Weld. Even Trump thinks they should get to debate: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]