Although Barack Obama might win a much larger percentage of the popular vote in Kansas than Gary Johnson, Johnson is nearly as likely, in a practical sense, to win Kansas’s electoral votes as is Obama. Does this mean Obama supporters in Kansas are ego-strokers that should just vote for the likely Kansas winner (Mitt Romney) and just work for change from within the system? I don’t think so. Then why do those labels apply to third-party candidates or voters?
Many Americans are increasingly tired of partisanship and gridlock. This is a fact so widely accepted that Jim Lehrer asked a question about it in the first presidential debate. Furthermore, many Americans believe that the media is at least partly to blame for excluding other voices. Felts’ editorial piece does nothing to discourage that belief. (For that matter, neither did the irony of Lehrer’s question; third-party candidates are systematically excluded from nationally televised debates, so the media asking the two major-party candidates what they would do to break partisan gridlock seems a little disingenuous.) This silencing and marginalization of third-party candidates and voters seems so strange in a profession — journalism — that thrives on the principles of First Amendment rights, access to information and including a variety of perspectives.
Felts suggests that, in voting for a third-party candidate, I might be helping out the candidate I agree with least, and that I’d be better served working for change from within the system. I’d like to point out that there are several governments in the world that operate with a multi-party system. They have the flexibility to collaborate among parties on issues important to them because they’re not stuck with comprehensive, either/or party policies. Two-party systems create a culture of opposition; multi-party systems promote cooperation to address issues. I can think of no better way of working for change within our own type of democracy than to build coalitions to solve problems.
Let me tell you how I came to decide on my candidate. I chose two issues that were important to me: not spending more money than we have and not using military intervention to topple every government we don’t like. It took about two seconds to realize that neither Obama nor Romney would fairly represent me on just these two issues. So I made the “radical” decision to vote for the only candidate on the ballot that does agree with me on those two issues. I don’t understand how voting for someone who is on the ballot and represents my viewpoint is even slightly controversial. I always thought that was the American right, the American responsibility.
Maybe people who run as and vote for third parties don’t just do so, as the editorial suggests, because it feels good. Maybe they have to work up the courage to “sacrifice” their votes to hopefully make change down the road. Maybe, like their Republican or Democrat neighbors, they’re just trying to be good citizens.
— Kirstin Olson,