To many, American politics have always seemed red versus blue, conservative versus liberal, Republicans versus Democrats. In a system with such harsh division, many feel as though they do not identify with either major party and instead may be members of a third party, such as the Libertarian Party, Green Party or Constitution Party, to name just a few.
Third party candidates and their policies, which garner far less media coverage than their mainstream counterparts, have gained more and more traction, especially in a very charged and, at times, alienating political climate. According to data released by the Associated Press, third party voters made up 1.8% of the vote this election, which equates to a total of 2,684,095 votes.
Three of the current largest third parties in the U.S., as mentioned before, are the Libertarian Party, Green Party and Constitution Party, which all fall on some point of the political spectrum. The Libertarian Party follows libertarianism, described as being more socially liberal than Democrats, yet more economically conservative than Republicans. As for the Green Party, the principles behind the party revolve around green politics and lean both economically and socially far-left. Known for its far-right beliefs, the Constitution Party follows a religious conservative set of values.
For the 2020 elections, candidates across the country ran on behalf of the aforementioned parties, with presidential candidates Dr. Jo Jorgensen running for the Libertarian Party, Howard Hawkins for the Green Party and Don Blankenship for the Constitution Party.
Third party candidates up and down the ballot have struggled to establish legitimacy and receive a place on the ballot. Additionally, in an election as polarizing as this one, many have argued against voting for a third party candidate, who would likely not earn the 270 electoral votes necessary to earn the office of the presidency and take away votes from the mainstream candidates.
For Hawkins, a veteran, retired teamster, activist and co-founder of the Green Party, he has spent his political career running for the New York Senate seat, House of Representatives in New York’s 25th Congressional district, Governor of New York, District Common Councilor in Syracuse, Syracuse City Auditor, Mayor of Syracuse and most recently, the office of the presidency. Running means much more to him, and his party, than just winning.
“It took awhile for people to realize we were serious, get to know us. And they realized we were talking about things people liked. So that’s the challenge and then when you go up the scale [at] the Congress, Senate, President, you got to have local legs to run an effective competitive race at that level. The Green Party is not there yet,” Hawkins said. “We run those races nonetheless to put issues on the ballot that aren’t being discussed, and to, in the case of the presidential run, get ballot lines.”
Fighting for ballot access — a line on each and every voter’s ballot — remains a crucial part of many third party campaigns like the Green Party. Each individual state has their own list of laws and requirements for parties and their candidates to receive a place on the ballot. With many requiring party meetings, signature requirements and primaries, much of the challenge lies in getting third parties onto the ballot.
“Usually it takes 10, 30, 100 times more signatures, which means you spend a lot of time talking to people about ‘would you sign my petition?,’ rather than, ‘would you vote for us because we stand for ABC,” Hawkins said. “It’s a big burden. This country, compared to other countries, has the hardest ballot access requirements… You want to run for Congress in this country, in most states, it takes thousands, or tens of thousands, of signatures to get on [the ballot] as an independent.”
With the recent 2020 election, specifically for the presidency, many considered voting for a third party candidate an unwise choice due to the fact that the candidate would not have a chance at becoming the next president. However, Hawkins sees that a vote can equate to what a voter wants to see done in government and the policies they support.
“If you believe in the things we were campaigning for: a Green New Deal, to deal with the ongoing climate meltdown, an Economic Bill of Rights, including Medicare for All, to end poverty and economic despair, and peace initiatives to prioritize federal spending from the military to social and environmental protections; these are positions the majority of people support according to public opinion polls,” Hawkins said. “If you don’t vote for what you want, you’re never going to get it… Vote for what you want and make the politicians come to you.”
Across the country, third parties like the Green Party seek to not only become institutionalized, but to also become household names across the country. Their mission is to start at the local level, serving in council-level positions in communities all over the U.S., and working their way up, further enforcing their legitimacy as not only a political party, but equal contenders for higher offices.
Often a hidden, yet important role of third parties in America has been their impact on legislation and ability to bring some of their issues into mainstream politics. Hawkins, the original “Green New Dealer,” became the very first candidate in the U.S. to campaign for a Green New Deal in 2010. Senator and former Democratic candidate for president Bernie Sanders famously integrated the Green New Deal into his campaign, promising to deliver environmental justice in the U.S.
“One of our objectives is to bring issues to the mainstream. I think we’ve done that with the Green New Deal. That was our signature issue in the 2010s, I was the first candidate in this country to campaign for it in 2010. It was picked up by the Democrats into 2018 and 2019, and it’s now a household term,” Hawkins said. “…There’s a role here for the Green Party to keep pushing that forward. So, I think that’s the role we’ll play, we don’t want to just raise issues that the Democrats and Republicans pick up. We want to get into office; I mean, that’s really our longer term objective.”
Fueled by policies such as Medicare for All, a COVID-19 relief package, Green New Deal, Community control of the Police, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, an Economic Bill of Rights, an End to Endless Wars, Legalization of Marijana and an End to the War on Drugs, the Green Party, alongside fellow third parties, continues to work and campaign on issues that they feel are neglected by the mainstream, working to include all voices and policies in the political process.
Third parties represent a lesser-heard group of politically-motivated individuals in the American political system, bound by a mission to establish party legitimacy, fight for ballot access and to shine a spotlight on policies they feel must be addressed.
“Running for office is the fullest expression of our First Amendment freedoms. Free speech, petitioning the government for redress of grievances and a free press. We know that most of our voters won’t vote if we’re not on the ballot,” Hawkins said. “The United States talks about democracy, but it has a lot of improvements to make.”