Home News Challenges for Third-Party Candidates: Attracting Voters, Ballot Access

Challenges for Third-Party Candidates: Attracting Voters, Ballot Access


In the bustling streets of South Central Los Angeles, Romeo Keyes made a decision in 2016 that he thought was foolproof – casting his vote for Donald Trump. But as the years passed, Keyes found himself growing more and more disillusioned with his choice. So much so, that when the highly contentious 2020 presidential election rolled around, he opted out of voting altogether.

“I chose the lesser of two evils last time, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it again,” lamented the 26-year-old writer. Disenchanted with the major political parties, Keyes has set his sights on a different candidate this time around – Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental lawyer who threw his hat into the ring as an Independent candidate in October.

For over a century, the White House has been claimed by either a Republican or a Democrat, with the exception of Zachary Taylor’s win as a Whig in 1848. But in the current political climate, more and more Americans are turning away from the traditional parties, seeking alternatives that better align with their values.

Independent candidates may not have the widespread support to overtake the two-party system, but they have the potential to sway election outcomes. Businessman Ross Perot, for example, garnered 19% of the national vote in 1992, potentially influencing Bill Clinton’s victory.

However, breaking through the barriers of the entrenched two-party system is no easy feat. Independent candidates face steep challenges, such as the arduous task of getting on the ballot in all 50 states, each with its own set of rules and regulations. The cost alone can be staggering, with Kennedy’s campaign estimating a price tag of $30 million.

In California, an independent candidate must gather around 219,000 signatures over a 105-day period, starting in April. The logistical hurdles are immense, as each state presents its own unique challenges. Maine, with its smaller population, requires only a fraction of the signatures needed in California. And in Florida, the threshold is set at 145,040 signatures.

Theresa Amato, a seasoned campaign manager and author, understands the uphill battle faced by third-party and independent candidates. “If you’re not on the ballot, you’re nowhere,” she stated. The primary process also tends to exclude third-party candidates, leaving them out in the cold.

Kathy Boockvar, former Pennsylvania Secretary of State, laments the lack of diversity in the voting process. Extremes dominate the conversation, with voices on the far left and far right exerting the most influence. She believes that reforming election rules to allow more third parties to emerge and giving independents a voice in primaries could lead to a more representative democracy. However, change may be slow in coming, as those in power have little incentive to rock the boat.

“Incumbency is a powerful force,” Boockvar noted. “Those who benefit from the current system are unlikely to support changes that challenge their position.” The status quo remains intact, perpetuating the cycle of the same voices being heard over and over again.

As the 2020 election approaches, individuals like Romeo Keyes find themselves at a crossroads. Will they continue to support a system that leaves them feeling disillusioned and disenfranchised, or will they dare to seek out alternative voices that better reflect their values and beliefs? The choice is theirs to make, and the future of American democracy hangs in the balance.


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