Third way

Nowhere is it required that voters choose either Trump or Clinton

Smaller parties must initially circulate petitions to get on the Nevada ballot.

Smaller parties must initially circulate petitions to get on the Nevada ballot.


Dennis Myers

The Green Party is still battling its way onto the Nevada ballot.

“We had until June 3 to collect at least 5,431 signatures to get ballot access for the Green Party in Nevada,” reads one of the party’s sites. “We turned in 8,277.”

It’s always good to have a cushion, particularly in a state with Nevada’s population turnover. But those 2,846 extra signatures were not enough. On June 22, the state reported that the party had fallen 400 signatures short. Greens went back out for more signatures, circulating petitions through the end of July.

But on Aug. 12 the Nevada secretary of state’s office announced the party had still not crossed the threshold. Party leaders said they would go to court and that a map on the “Jill2016” website—Jill Stein is the party’s presidential nominee—shows Nevada and Oklahoma as two states where the issue is “under litigation,” although at this writing no legal action has been filed in Nevada.

Two other small political parties, meanwhile, are already on the Nevada ballot by virtue of their draw in the last election—the Libertarian Party and the Independent American Party.

In the past, even when there were strong independent candidates, like John Anderson in 1980, or third party candidates, like Ross Perot in 1992, they tended to fade as election day neared and voters returned to the comfort of the familiar two major parties. This year, however, there is a dynamic at work never seen before—two very unpopular major party nominees who do not make a return look all that comforting. Could the lesser candidates keep their standing this time?

“They can, and they likely will,” said Nevada political analyst Fred Lokken. “Ironically we have more than one potentially viable third party candidate. This time around Republicans, especially, are shopping, because they just cannot vote for Donald Trump. Democrats can’t do it either, but I think there are more Republicans looking for another place to go.”

He said the smaller parties could “revitalize American democracy.”

The Libertarians at the moment are riding high with their candidates—former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson for president and former Massachusetts governor William Weld for vice president—picking up a considerable number of disaffected Republicans. Johnson is placing at about 10 percent in leading opinion surveys, unusually strong for a third party. Fifteen percent is required to get into the presidential debates controlled by the two-party Commission on Presidential Debates. Jill Stein is at about five percent.

The American Independent Party—its name everywhere except Nevada, where the first two terms are reversed—is the surviving remnant of George Wallace’s 1968 third party. It’s not clear whether it will have a national presidential nominee this year. In California, the party has named Donald Trump as its candidate, giving the billionaire Republican two lines on the ballot.

The Greens’ problems in Nevada are not unusual. The two main political parties have structured state and federal election laws to be convenient for themselves and inconvenient for smaller parties. The Democratic Party in particular is a thorn in the side of independents or third parties. When it comes to third parties and independent candidates, the Democratic Party is the least democratic party. Over the years, the Republican Party has more or less rolled with what came. It twice lost the presidency to Bill Clinton because Ross Perot drained off votes from its candidates, yet did not try to stop Perot’s candidacy and didn’t complain afterward.

Party of the people?

Democrats, on the other hand, have tried to throw legal obstacles in the way of Eugene McCarthy in 1975, John Anderson in 1980, and Ralph Nader whenever it could. And Democrats still whine that Nader cost them the presidency in 2000, even though all Al Gore had to do was carry his home state, which he was unable to do, to win the election. Nor do Democrats question why their choices for the presidency so often fail to bewitch voters to the point that third candidates can be such a threat.

The wild dynamics of this year are making it more difficult than usual to sort out the players. With Republicans abandoning their nominee in droves and a conservative Democrat at the head of the Democratic ticket, third parties are enjoying a remarkable degree of attention. Johnson, a former New Mexico governor, is threatening to crack even the poll threshold the two parties use to keep third parties out of debates. And Green nominee Jill Stein is luring Democrats whom even Trump does not drive back home.

Some of the Greens’ problems are of their own making. There are multiple websites with various addresses that purport to speak for the Greens, and those addresses tend not to be well tended. We sent messages to each address and received one unsigned two-sentence message back—nine days later.

The unappetizing choices in the two major parties are throwing more attention on smaller parties than usual and right on schedule, establishment journalism entities have begun cranking out articles like these:

“Third Party Support Will Likely Wane by Election Day” (New York Times).

“Third party candidates won’t really matter in November” (Washington Post).

“State official in charge of elections says third-party vote is a ’waste’” (Boston Globe).

“Third Party Votes Mean Less of a Mandate to Govern” (New York Times).

Given the dysfunction in D.C., the notion of a mandate affecting governance these days seems like a musty notion from a bygone era.