Voting Constructively

by Berry Friesen (October 24, 2016)

Most Americans (57 percent) think we need a major third political party because the Republican and Democrat parties are not doing an adequate job of representing us, according to Gallup polling conducted in September.

So why don’t we have a major third party?  The main reason is we voters haven’t supported credible third parties on the ballot—the Greens and the Libertarians.

On the presidential ballot for the Greens in 45 states is Jill Stein, a physician.  On the ballot for the Libertarians in all 50 states is former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.

(Also on the ballot for President in 11 states is Evan McMullin, a former CIA and Goldman Sachs operative.  Though not impressed with these credentials, I mention McMullin because he currently leads the polling in Utah.  McMullin is running as an independent, not associated with any political party.)

Generally speaking, the Greens and the Libertarians are not beholden to the special interests that drive policy in the US: Wall Street, the energy companies, the big military contractors. This makes a huge difference in the positions their candidates take.

For example, Stein and Johnson each oppose the interventionism that has come to dominate US foreign policy.  Each supports major cuts to military spending; opposes the current economic model, which brings prosperity to the well-connected and leaves the rest of us behind; and views climate change as a pressing public issue.

Rigged Election?

The election system is set up to protect incumbents and ensure the domination of the Republican and Democrat parties.  Generally, we don’t regard this built-in bias to be cheating.

Media bias can distort how a candidate is perceived by the voters.  After noting almost unanimous media support for Clinton, Mike Whitney asks: “When was the last time the media threw 100 percent of its support behind one party’s presidential candidate?”  But generally, we don't regard media bias as cheating either.

Of course, Trump also has benefited from the media, which inexplicably made him into a credible candidate by the inordinate amount of coverage it gave him, especially during 2015.

As David Swanson puts it, “The Republican presidential primary was rigged. It wasn’t rigged by the Republicans, the Democrats, Russians, space aliens, or voters. It was rigged by the owners of television networks who believed that giving one candidate far more coverage than others was good for their ratings.”

So when Trump now claims the upcoming election is “rigged” against him, he seems to be speaking of something more targeted and nefarious.

Swanson provides an example of this as well:

“The 2016 Democratic presidential primary was rigged. It wasn’t rigged by bankers, misogynists, Russians, Republicans, or computer hackers. It was rigged by the Democratic National Committee and its co-conspirators in the media, many of whom have helpfully confessed (in case it wasn’t obvious) in emails leaked from the DNC and from John Podesta. The DNC chose Hillary Clinton and worked hard to make sure that she ‘won’.”

Last but not least, there is the cheating that excludes people of a certain persuasion from registering to vote,that blocks their voting by failing to provide enough accessible polling places, or that cancels out their votes by changing the totals.   Allegedly, Republican state officials used these practices in 2004 to win Ohio for George W. Bush and in 2000 to win Florida for Bush (see here and here and here).  In 1960, Democrat state officials are widely reported to have done the same to win Illinois for Kennedy.

Our Response

I take seriously the worries about a rigged election.  Each major party has the motive and the operational capacity to cheat in specific locations.  And yes, each is morally capable of doing it.

Yet this doesn’t prompt me to despair.  Voting continues to be a modest way to impact our world constructively. So I ask: how can I do that?

In most states, to qualify as a recognized political party and thus be assured of a spot on the election ballot, one of a party’s candidates must receive a designated percentage (typically 5 percent) of the vote cast in the preceding election.

This is an important step for a political party to take, enabling it to spend time and money next time around on talking to voters about the issues, not the mechanics of getting on the ballot.

That’s why I don’t see voting Green or Libertarian as “a protest vote.”  Instead, it’s a way to prepare for a better political future by strengthening parties that have fresh ideas and will resist the oligarchic control of Wall Street, fossil-fuel energy and the big military contractors.

This time around, let’s end “lesser evil” voting and the ever-worsening quality of Republican and Democrat candidates.  Let’s use our ballots to accomplish something positive:  vote Green or Libertarian.