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Doing something with your vote

It’s that time again. The presidential elections are just about here, and for many of us, this will be the first time we actually get to vote. That is, if you are registered; if not, hurry up because the deadline for voter registration is fast approaching.

But as the day approaches, we find ourselves constrained to a limited number of options. Democrat or Republican, even if our views don’t largely align, we feel bound to pick the lesser of two evils. Or to simply abstain from voting altogether. However, there is another option, one that I find we often forget about. Consider voting third party.


Perhaps you find yourself generally in agreement with Mitt, perhaps with Barack. Perhaps you are registered in a swing state. Then, by all means, please vote for one of these two candidates. But for everyone else, for those who find themselves vaguely dissatisfied with the current duopoly, I urge you to consider voting third party. Especially if you have registered to vote here in New Jersey.

Now, there are certainly drawbacks to a “first past the post”-type election involving multiple candidates. It invites minority rule and, more often than not, eventually leads back to a two-party system. Not to mention, third-party candidates can act as spoilers in the election, and this may be manipulated to the advantage of one of the major parties. But right now, we are not dealing with huge bases of support for independent candidates, even if many Americans say they would consider them. Since Perot, or possibly Nader, we arguably have not seen substantial national support for a third-party presidential candidate. So these disadvantages, apart from the spoiler effect in specific states, are somewhat limited for now.

But aren’t you simply wasting your new, fresh vote with a third party? Not at all. Sure, they won’t win, not this election at least. However, there are several advantages to us voting for independent candidates.

First off, unless you are registered in a swing state, voting for the non-favorite candidate is largely considered to be pretty much throwing away your vote anyway. Why be dissatisfied and throw away your vote? Look to see if Gary Johnson or Jill Stein aligns more with your own views. Now you would be throwing your weight behind one of the key independent candidates, where one vote means a lot more than it would otherwise.

Drawing votes away from a major party, at the very least, sends a strong message of dissatisfaction, of need for some change in party platforms. Many believe the mere presence of third parties helps to draw attention away from party attacks and toward the issues themselves. Otherwise, we are simply reinforcing the status quo. Steven A. Holmes pointed in The New York Times to Perot’s case. Though he didn’t win, the success of Ross Perot’s campaign certainly had Democrats and Republicans looking over their shoulders, tackling Perot’s stances on deficit reduction, fiscal stimulation, fiscal conservatism, and abortion.

Recently, we’ve seen the duopoly effectively try to push out third-party candidates from the race. This is an issue that, in my opinion, has not received enough widespread attention. For example, Gary Johnson’s ballot has been challenged in Michigan, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Iowa and Ohio, thanks to the full support and legal assistance of the Republican Party. Johnson’s senior advisor released a statement last month saying, “[The Republican party knows] that even if their challenges fail, fending them off is a drain on our resources and a distraction from the real issues of the campaign.” The belief that votes belong to the major parties, either Democratic or Republican, is contemptuous.


Perhaps the most persuasive counterargument against voting outside the two major parties is this: The current two-party system covers very broad political lines. Is there even room for a third party? But this is really something we must decide for ourselves. Do our views diverge enough from the Democratic or Republican parties on the issues we consider most important for us to vote differently? Are there certain areas of consensus between the Democrats and Republicans that we feel should be challenged? If so, they should receive due consideration.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News Poll showed more than two-thirds of Americans would consider voting for a qualified third-party candidate. Twenty-two percent said they “definitely would” vote for an independent candidate with whom they agreed on most issues. But actions speak louder than words. No third-party candidate received even five percent of the general election vote in 2008.

If nothing else, I would urge you to do one thing. Go to Take the poll. You might just be surprised with the outcome.

Kinnari Shah is a chemical and biological engineering major from Washington, N.J. She can be reached at

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