by Peter B. Gemma
“I believe 2016 was a phenomenal breakthrough for independent candidates and 3rd parties; the fact that independent candidates formed networks to support each other and to push the independent message is a development they cannot be underestimated.”
That’s Lynn Kahn’s overview of this year’s election. Kahn, who ran for President as an independent, was on the ballot in two states and qualified as a write-in in 10 more. To date, she is credited with winning 5,623 votes.
However, author and political activist Darcy Richardson, who was a candidate for the Reform Party nomination, said he is “not too optimistic” about the future of third parties. “Given the widespread disdain for both major parties this year and the fact that the vast majority of Americans believed the country is headed in the wrong direction,” he noted, “then realistically, if it couldn’t happen this year, then I’m not sure if a third-party breakthrough is possible any time soon.”
The final vote tallies are not in yet, but 2016 appears to be the best election for independents and third parties since 1996, when Reform Party nominee Ross Perot received eight percent of the vote. The combined vote for all alternative candidates currently stands at over five percent (1,787 individuals ran for President this year.) In addition, according to Independent Voter News, “the Democrats saw voter turnout drop from approximately 34 percent in 2008, to 31 percent in 2012, to a twenty-year low of 26.5 percent. Republicans saw their turnout drop from 29 percent in 2008, to 28 percent in 2012, to their own twenty-year low of 26 percent in 2016.”
The Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson’s share of the national vote is approaching 3.3 percent, better than any other presidential result in the party’s 45-year history. Arvin Vohra, Vice Chair of the Libertarian National Committee, asserted that, “During this election cycle, millions of new people have come to the Libertarian Party. These will be our future activists, state and county chairs, and candidates.” Vohra also stated, “We have seen much wider acceptance of Libertarian ideas, such as ending the War on Drugs, eliminating the income tax, repealing the Patriot Act, and getting the government out of healthcare and education. The increased traction of these ideas is spreading our message and bringing new people into the LP every day.”
When asked if 2016 was a step forward for third parties and independent candidates, Libertarian State Leadership Alliance Political Coordinator George Phillies answered, “No, we had a wonderful opportunity – given the two worst Presidential candidates in recent times – and we did not get much out of it.” He went on to say:
Once again, [the Libertarian Party] ran a pair of recent Republicans. Their campaign did not emphasize major libertarian issues, such as the surveillance state and the warfare state. The Presidential candidate was significantly under-informed, and kept passing issues over to the Vice Presidential nominee … [Governor William Weld] appeared to endorse Clinton for President, and his after-the-fact denials were less than completely helpful.
However, the Libertarian Party’s Vohra emphasized that the election, “was a major step forward for our party specifically, and may have also helped other parties. Just days ago, for example, an LP candidate training program which in the past usually had 7-10 attendees had over 100.”
Darcy Richardson did have praise the Libertarian Party’s progress: “One of their biggest accomplishments was the party’s successful petition drive in Oklahoma – an amazing feat made possible in large part by the personal generosity of ballot access expert Richard Winger and the on-the-ground presence of longtime Libertarian Party activist Paul Frankel, who coordinated much of that effort. I believe he is one of the country’s most experienced signature seekers.”
Ricahrdson also observed, “Impressively, under Frankel’s direction, the party collected 42,182 signatures – where they needed 24,745 – some 30,500 of which were deemed valid. At more than 72 percent, it was a remarkable validity rate.” Of the Oklahoma effort, Richardson also said:
It was the first time in 16 years that the Libertarian Party qualified for the ballot in the Sooner State, thereby giving the party’s presidential ticket a realistic shot at appearing on the ballot in all fifty states and the District of Columbia this year. That was an extraordinary accomplishment.
Libertarian Party Vice Chair Vohra claimed, “Our 2016 success was built largely on the groundwork of countless activists as well as the excellent job done by the Gary Johnson campaign. That includes the exponential increase in state and county level organization, the incredible work of our social media volunteer teams, and the unprecedented outreach done by the Johnson campaign.”
Rocky De La Fuente, the presidential candidate of both the Reform Party and the America Delta Party, and who earned more than 32,000 votes in the election, observed, “2016 was a step forward for third parties and independent candidates. We saw some upward movement among third party candidates that was helped by the historically weak nominees offered by the two major parties. However, the two next-most ‘favored’ parties, the Libertarians and the Greens, enjoyed most of that movement. They offered candidates who brought nothing new to the race. In fact both parties faded from the scene months before the election, but they’re seemingly happy to finish in their traditional third and fourth places.”
De La Fuente, whose name appeared on 20 state ballots and who qualified as a write-in in 16 more, continued, “Had either of these parties offered a stronger candidate with fresh ideas and the tenacity to fight until the end, perhaps they would have won a few states and potentially thrown the election into the House of Representatives. Instead, we only saw modest progress while witnessing what was potentially a ‘perfect storm’ in a political sense.”
Prohibition Party nominee Jim Hedges agrees: “I suspect that 3rd party results this year were partly due to widespread voter disgust, even despair, with the poor quality of major-party candidates.” Hedges, qualified as a write-in candidate in five states and was on the ballot in three more. The Prohibition Party garnered more than 5,500 votes – its best showing since 1988. In June, he ran a strong race in California’s American Independent Party presidential primary, tallying 11 percent of the vote.
Constitution Party Chairman Frank Fluckiger says his 25-year-old party may surpass its all-time high vote as well [in 2008, Rev. Chuck Baldwin captured 199,304, votes.] “It is clear that interest in the party is increasing. In every case each state in which we were on the ballot in both elections [2012 and 2016], the vote totals increased.” Fluckiger also said, “2016 was a very good year for the Constitution Party. Other third parties – the Libertarian Party in particular – seemed to have serious morale problems. Numerous times we were told by members of that party that they intended to vote for the [Darrell] Castle-[Scott] Bradley ticket since they were most unhappy with many of the stands on issued taken by the Libertarian ticket.”
Darrell Castle, the Constitution Party nominee, stated, “2016 was the greatest opportunity for 3rd parties in history. Unfortunately, some were not ready to take advantage of it. Many members decided to openly support the opposition perhaps not realizing the chance to make their party viable for the first time.” Castle also said, “One prominent 3rd party went down the ‘big name’ route instead of picking someone who truly reflected their party’s stated values. This was a misunderstanding of the true depth of dissatisfaction among disaffected people of the two major parties, especially the Republicans.”
American Solidarity Party (ASP) presidential nominee Mike Maturen is upbeat about the impact of 3rd parties on the 2016 election. He said, “We are very proud of the fact that we were able to not only gain access to the Colorado ballot, but were able to be authorized as write-ins on the ballots of 27 other states. Our party was not only able to not only recruit members in all 50 states – and state chapters in 38 states – but we were able to get a great deal of positive press, not only here in the United States, but internationally as well.”
ASP Chairman Matthew Bartko pointed to the passage of Maine’s Ranked Choice Voting Initiative as a measure of success for third parties. The instant-runoff voting initiative establishes ranked-choice voting for federal and statewide candidates excluding President. “This is a great step in the right direction for election reform,” Banko stated, ‘but we know that this is a long game and there is so much work to do. But we are here for the long haul and we are in it to win it.”
Darcy Richardson also commented that, “The Progressive Party of Vermont was clearly a big winner on November 8th, but of the nationally-organized minor parties, my hat is off to the Greens for scratching and clawing their way onto the ballot in 44 states and the District of Columbia – a record for that left-leaning party. Despite heartbreaking setbacks in Nevada and Georgia, it was an incredible achievement. Much of the party’s success, of course, was due to the efforts of longtime Green Party activist Rick Lass of New Mexico, the party’s national ballot access coordinator.”
Libertarian Party Vice Chair Arvin Vohra is optimistic about the third party movement: “I have never before seen this level of enthusiasm, organization, dedication to principle, and passion in any organization, including the Libertarian Party.”
Mike Maturen is confident as well: “I believe the vicious campaign of 2016 contributed more to the growth of third parties than just about anything in the past few decades. People are tired of the divisiveness and hatred. They are looking for a political home where they can discuss ideas and policies without being attacked and vilified.”
Constitution Party presidential candidate Darrell Castle is cautious however: “The Constitution Party and other 3rd parties will have to reexamine their commitment to the cause of liberty if they want to have any meaningful future.” Darcy Richardson reminds third party activists that “the dearth of third-party candidates in this year’s congressional and state legislative races was also disappointing.” And Rocky De La Fuente adds this observation on the future prospects of the third party movement: “It will depend on what the parties do with the opportunity that has been presented. We have the opportunity to exploit the exposure we received.”
Finally, Joe Miller, Libertarian Party nominee for U.S. Senate in Alaska – who received the highest vote as Libertarian in the national party’s history – assesses the situation this way: “Whether 2016 acts as a roadblock or change-point depends almost entirely on whether Trump governs as the anti-Establishment candidate he campaigned as. A Trump failure – especially one caused by the GOP – will create unparalleled opportunities for a viable third party candidate in 2020.”