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Why America doesn't have the third party it wants

Why America doesn't have the third party it wants
© Greg Nash

On the heels of a second historic impeachment trial, new polls from Gallup show a record number of Americans identify as independent (50 percent) and favor a new political party (62 percent).

In any other industry, if half of customers disliked the only two major brands and nearly two thirds of customers desired an alternative, there would be a new product on the shelf, yesterday.

Not so in the politics industry, where the reigning two-party duopoly has rigged the electoral rules in their own favor. All 435 members of the House of Representatives elected in 2020 are either Democrats or Republicans, as are 99.5 percent of all state legislators. What’s more, in ten states, 10.7 million independent voters are legally prohibited from voting in primary elections.

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Real reform that puts voters first and opens our system up to more competition requires two essential elements: replacing partisan primaries with non-partisan primaries to allow all voters to participate and replacing plurality-winner with majority-winner elections through ranked choice voting to eliminate the third party “spoiler” effect.

Alaska became the first state to combine and pass these powerful reforms (as “Final-Four Voting”) on the ballot last November. Legislative progress for ranked choice voting is making progress in other states, from Utah to Minnesota. Congress should take serious note.

At the federal level, the most ambitious reform — the Fair Representation Act — combines larger, multi-member Congressional districts with ranked choice voting and would lower the barrier for new parties to gain a voice. At minimum, Congress could repeal a 1967 law that prevents individual states from experimenting with this system.

The deeply divided Republican Party offers an instructive example of how our electoral system inhibits new competition and why these reforms are necessary.

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 60 percent want Trump to continue to be their leader while 38 percent want someone new. Trump has reportedly contemplated starting a new “Patriot Party.” Never-Trumpers are considering starting their own “Integrity Party.” But neither is likely to start or gain traction because both factions need each other in order to reclaim a Congressional majority in 2022.

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That’s because a hypothetical three-way contest between candidates of the Democratic Party, Republican Party, and the Patriot or Integrity Party would almost assuredly result in the victory of a Democrat. And that’s because candidates must only earn a plurality of votes –– the most votes, even if not a majority of votes –– to win the election.

This dynamic is not unique to the Republican Party.

In 2020, Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezMarjorie Taylor Greene wants to debate Green New Deal with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez NY Democratic chair blasts primary challenge against Maloney What will we get for a multitrillion-dollar energy policy? MORE remarked, “In any other country, Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse panel approves bill to set up commission on reparations Democrats to offer bill to expand Supreme Court Former Israeli prime minister advises Iran to 'cool down' amid nuclear threats MORE and I would not be in the same party.” The Democratic Party is evenly divided between those who consider themselves to be Biden Democrats versus Sanders-Warren Democrats. Any new Democatic Socialist Party, for example, would only serve to split Democrats’ votes and elect Republicans.

Close to a quarter (22 percent) of voters would like to see a party of the center. There is a challenge here, too. In 2019, Howard Schultz dropped his potential presidential bid as a “centrist independent” after walking into the political buzzsaw and being labeled a “spoiler” by both sides. 

Americans left, right, and center are massively dissatisfied with how both major parties are representing them and are clamoring for better options. Yet, in our zero-sum political system, the only response of both parties has been to convince voters how bad the only other option is and claim any other vote would be wasted, as their sole hope to maintain and grow their power.

Is it any wonder, then, how we have wound up in a cold civil war between the red team and blue team, wherein 41 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans now see the other side not just as political opposition but as enemies — and where potential violence is increasingly seen as justified?

Major reform of our electoral system is necessary not only to level the playing field for new competition but also to prevent our democracy from succumbing to its own division.

That’s where reforms like ranked choice voting come in.

Ranked choice voting gives every voter the option of ranking candidates in order of their preference and, through a series of instant run-offs, guarantees whoever wins has majority support. It prevents vote splitting and, with it, eliminates the spoiler effect –– giving more power to voters to support whoever they like the most without worrying about electing the candidate they like the least.

One thing that most Americans can agree on — and maybe the only thing that unites America right now — is a shared understanding that our political system is broken.

Nothing works.

Most Americans believe both parties stink, and there’s little comfort in the belief that one stinks less than the other. The path to more choice, better representation and meaningful policy-making runs through electoral reform.

Nick Troiano is Executive Director of Unite America and a former independent candidate for Congress. Unite America seeks to enact nonpartisan electoral reforms that can foster a more representative and functional government.