Why I Voted for a Third Party Candidate in a Swing State

By Megan Sehr on November 21, 2012

I spent most of this election year as an undecided voter, unable to decide which presidential candidate I had deemed the “lesser of two evils.”  After supporting Jon Huntsman’s failing campaign during the Republican primaries, I was left without a candidate I wanted to support.  I wasn’t terribly excited about Ron Paul, and I found it hard to agree with the rest of the Republican candidates’ stances on social policies.

Libertarian presidential candidate, Gary Johnson. Photograph by ronpaulrevolt2008 at Flickr

Politically, I define myself as a moderate libertarian.  I’m concerned with the protection of civil liberties, and I’m skeptical of increased government involvement, especially within the executive branch.  I believe that federal bureaucracy is largely inefficient, and I think that state and local governments are better equipped to address the needs of its residents.  My move toward a libertarian viewpoint was initially influenced by my beliefs about freedoms of speech, expression and individual choice, which didn’t fit into the ideologies of the two big political parties.

I followed this presidential election closely.  I watched all three debates, and I continually tried to make some sense out of the political positions of Mitt Romney and President Obama.  I researched claims the candidates made against each other, and I was frustrated by the political rhetoric coming from both sides.  Our country was drawing closer to Election Day, and I was still an undecided voter.  My hopes that the foreign policy debate would fix my indecisiveness were crushed after the candidates failed to define two very distinct policies, especially on the Middle East.

The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf touched on my frustration in this article, titled, “Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama.”  To me, neither candidate could be considered the “lesser of two evils.”  The Economist furthered my apprehension with their endorsement article, which was basically an unenthusiastic backing of President Obama. Like The Economist, I was sure that the American public could do better than President Obama, for the reasons specified in both articles; however, Mitt Romney was a wild card, and his flip-flopping had made me nervous about voting for him.

On the night before Election Tuesday, I was still an undecided voter.

I rolled out of bed on the morning of Nov. 6, and went to the on-campus polling location.  I stood in line for an hour before I was finally handed my ballot and a pen.  I shuffled over to a polling booth and began to mark my choices, ignoring the section for presidential candidates.

Photo from BBC News

I completed everything else on the ballot, and I flipped it over to stare at the list of presidential candidates.  After months of watching the presidential campaign, I finally had to make a decision. I chose Gary Johnson.

I knew that many people would tell me that I wasted a vote on a candidate that never had a chance of winning.  This argument was made even stronger by the fact that analysts had predicted an incredibly close race, and I was voting in the swing state of Colorado.  In such an important election year, I had chosen to vote for a third party candidate.

Why?  After doing my research throughout the presidential campaign, I had a couple reasons for voting for the Libertarian candidate.

I agreed with most of Johnson’s policies and I wanted to vote for a candidate I could support.  I didn’t want to vote for a candidate that I had decided was the “lesser of two evils.”  In such a close election year, I wasn’t sure if idealism should have been the sole driver in my decision; so, there was a much more significant reason I voted for Johnson.

This election year, Gary Johnson hoped to gain 5% of the popular vote in the United States.  If he had succeeded to do that, the Libertarian Party would have been able to access federal campaign funds and it would have been on the ballot in all 50 states in the next presidential election.

If this had happened, the Libertarian Party would have been able to access millions more in campaign dollars.  More significantly, it would have given the Libertarian Party the legitimacy of a third party in the United States.  It would have disrupted the binopoly of the two major parties, and started a much-needed change of the political system in the United States.

The Johnson campaign thought a 5% win would be possible.  This election year, Americans seemed to begrudgingly support a presidential candidate from one of the two major parties.  For the Libertarian Party, it appeared to be the perfect opportunity to collect the votes of conflicted independents and Americans disappointed with the same political rhetoric.  Change wasn’t so far out of reach.

Gary Johnson only won 1% of the popular vote in this election.  Although this was nowhere near the 5% win anticipated by the Libertarian Party, it was still significant because it was the largest percentage of the popular vote won by the Libertarian Party.  It was also the most successful campaign run by a third party presidential candidate since 2000.

I voted for Gary Johnson because I thought I could contribute to a significant change in the American political system.  There is no place for the moderate discontented voice to go.  There is no middle ground, no compromising candidate between the two parties.  The moderate candidate in the Republican primaries wasn’t even considered a possibility for the presidential race.  Although Mitt Romney ran a Democratic Massachusetts with bipartisanship, he flipped between being a staunch conservative and a moderate during the presidential race, creating apprehension among some independent voters.

Photo from nearlibertarianparty.wikispaces.com

I believe there is a need for a viable third party in the United States, and I think the change starts with the American electorate.  In a presidential election that left many Americans feeling apathetic, there could have been a bigger move toward other political parties.  There could have been a real upset in the typical two party system.  There was an opportunity to send a message about our country’s political direction.

On the Colorado ballot, there must have been over ten candidates vying to be the president.  Yet, during the entire presidential race, we only heard of the Democratic and Republican nominees.  The other presidential candidates did not debate Mitt Romney and President Obama; they did not receive as much media attention; and, they did not have access to the same amount of campaign funds as the two major political candidates.

As long as we perpetuate the idea that there are only two viable political parties, then we won’t be able to develop a diverse political atmosphere in the United States.  Steadfast party supporters will push the moderate voice further into the background on both sides of the political aisle.  We will continue to pick between two presidential candidates, because of the notion that, “Well, a third party candidate can’t win, so why bother?”

Our country doesn’t have to continue in this direction.  We don’t have to support a presidential candidate that is only slightly better than his/her competition.  If we do our research, we can demand changes to the political system.  Instead of voting along a two party line, we can vote for a change we really believe in.  We can put a feasible third party candidate on the American radar, both in the media and politics, forcing a change in our party system.

This election year, I voted for change.  I didn’t vote for a change I saw in a particular politician, like many people did when they voted for President Obama in 2008.  I voted for a change of the entire political system. I voted for the acknowledgement of a third party in American politics.

Megan Sehr is a sophomore at the University of Denver, and she is majoring in International Studies and Journalism Studies with minors in History and Hebrew. She wants to go into international journalism, and is interested in Middle Eastern politics and culture. She loves writing, reading, poetry, Mad Men, and good discussions.

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