Brandon Kerr is determined to vote for Gary Johnson.

Johnson is the Libertarian nominee for president. Kerr shares Johnson’s and the Libertarian party’s concern with implementing a limited government and ending the war on drugs, which he thinks are positions other candidates don’t approach in the same way. He finds it “disheartening,” though, how other people don’t know how Johnson’s ideas compare to those of Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump.

Examples of third-party candidates in the 2016 election 

Gary Johnson

Party: Libertarian Party

Key issues:

  • Term limits: This would ensure government officials will spend a few years doing the job at hand, and then return to private life.

Jill SteinParty: Green Party

Key issues:

  • A Green New Deal: To create jobs by transitioning to 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2030, and investing in public transit, sustainable agriculture and conservation.

Darrell CastleParty: Constitution Party

Key issues:

  • End the Federal Reserve: Ending the Federal Reserve’s control of the United States’ monetary system by repealing the Federal Reserve Act, having the interest rates set by lenders and borrowers.

Gloria LaRivaParty: Party of Socialism and Liberation

Key issues:

  • Establish free healthcare, free education and affordable housing as constitutional rights.

“It has become a fight against the great other,” Kerr, the vice president of Students for Liberty at Ohio University, said. “It’s not about policies, not about issues, not about what’s actually happening to America.”

A third-party candidate is any political candidate that is not a member of either major party. Examples of third-party organizations include the Green Party and the Libertarian Party.

On the Ohio ballot, there are five presidential candidates: Clinton, Trump and three other others: Johnson, Jill Stein of the Green Party and non-party candidate Richard Duncan. According to Politics 1, a non-partisan political public service platform, there are almost 30 third-party and independent candidates who are on at least one state ballot competing in this year’s election.

Third-party and independent voters focus on voting based on their values, even though their candidates don’t receive the same amount of attention or support as major party candidates.

The need for an alternative

According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Aug. 31, Trump and Clinton are Americans’ least favorite presidential candidates in more than 30 years. The poll concluded 63 percent of those polled found Trump unfavorable, while 56 percent of those polled found Clinton unfavorable. For some voters, that means it is time to move away from major party candidates and find a candidate to better meet their needs.

“I think this election is where people found that there are alternatives,” Ryan Powers, a supporter of Jill Stein and a branch organizer for the Athens branch of the International Socialist Organization, said. “Sure, there are significant moves to be made, but people are at least aware that there are in fact other candidates in the race.”

For many potential voters, though, third-party and independent candidates fail to appear as viable choices, Sarah Poggione, an associate professor of political science at Ohio University, said.

“It may have something to do with these particular candidates,” Poggione said. “But I think there are also structural things built into our political system that make it difficult for third and independent parties to create an impact.”

The United States uses the Electoral College, and any candidate who earns more than 270 electoral votes wins the presidency. When awarding electoral votes, most states, with the exceptions of Nebraska and Maine, go on a winner-takes-all system where whomever wins more than 50 percent of the state’s popular vote wins all of the state’s electoral votes. Because of that, it can be hard for a third-party candidate to win electoral votes even if that candidate wins a lot of votes in the state.

“There is a lot there that kind of privileges the two major political parties,” Poggione said. “I think the political system as a whole works against the independent and third parties in many contexts.”

According to a Sept. 30 Gallup poll, 57 percent of Americans feel the need for a strong third-party in the U.S., an increase from 2012, where 46 percent of Americans polled expressed the same concern.

“(The dislike of the two major party candidates) kind of shows that there is polarization happening,” Powers, a senior studying philosophy, said. “That’s very telling, because it shows that people are fed up with the status quo, and they want an alternative.”

Jacob Koval, a member of Ohio University Students for Liberty, said his encounters with supporters from both the major parties had led him to believe there is a lack of resonance felt by the supporters of major candidates.

“If everybody picked whom they actually believed in, we’d have an electoral system that I think will work much better and represent the people,” Koval, the communications chair of Ohio University College Republicans, said.

The tough campaign trail

While many are blaming the lack of attention on the third-party and independent candidates for their inefficient campaigning, others are of the opinion that the media is at fault.

“I don’t know all of (the candidates),” Kerr, a senior studying management and political science, said. “It kind of goes to show who made a mark.”

DeLysa Burnier, a professor of political science at OU, said Trump in particular has a strong media presence, which is facilitated by his “extreme” views.

“Even though Trump is not an establishment Republican like Jeb Bush, he is still the standard bearer for one of our two major parties,” she said. “And that alone maintains a certain level of support, interest and media attention that you just can’t get as a third-party candidate.”

She said believes many third parties fail to capitalize on the limited available media resources, which would have otherwise proven to be effective.

“The bar is higher when you’re a third-party candidate because we don’t support them very often,” Burnier said. “So, they have to be stellar, on message and maybe have some charisma as well.”

A single misstep can be a big problem for candidates. Poggione cites Johnson’s failure to answer questions about Syria and world leaders as evidence of that.

The political structure of the voting system also contributes to the difficulties third-party and independent candidates face when running in the general election.

Each state has its own legislation that sets standards for candidates. While states allow candidates from state-recognized major political parties to enter their names on the ballot with more ease, the laws do not extend the same courtesy to independent and third-party counterparts. According to the Ohio Secretary of State, for instance, independent party candidates in Ohio have to circulate a petition and collect 5,000 signatures from qualified voters to be recognized by the state as a presidential candidate.

Richard Duncan, a 63-year-old Aurora resident on the Ohio ballot for president as an independent candidate, is running a self-funded campaign. He spent about $5,000 to collect the necessary signatures to get on the ballot.

“It shouldn’t be this difficult for an independent candidate, but it is,” Duncan said.

Those who vote in support of a third-party or an independent candidate are doing so with an intention of creating a difference and upholding their values.

“There is this quote that goes, ‘activism requires no optimism,’ ” Koval, a sophomore studying political science, said. “(It applies) in the sense that you don’t have to believe that (Johnson) is going to win to advocate him.”

Third-party and independent candidate supporters are sometimes less concerned with acquiring a seat in the White House and more concerned with starting a conversation about issues and the principles they hold dear.

“I think you must vote on principle,” Koval said. “I think it’s an ethical duty, in a way.”


A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed one of DeLysa Burnier’s quotes. The story has been updated to show the most accurate information.

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