Election 2016: Party Crashers


Justin Korman, Staff Writer

On the corner of Westerly Parkway and South Atherton Street stands a relatively unassuming yard sign, not at all rare during election season, but a bit out of place considering the politician it is advertising. In a 24-hour news cycle dominated by the recent health concerns of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the vaguely (and sometimes not so vaguely) racist and misogynistic tweets of Republican challenger Donald Trump, this political endorsement, positioned on the neatly trimmed grass ever so strategically, gives viewers from the sidewalk and the road a picturesque view of its bold declaration: Gary Johnson for President 2016.


Although written off by most political pundits, Johnson is fighting an uphill battle against the American two-party system in order to provide a presidential alternative in a year where one is perhaps most called-for, a fight shared by several others, including Green Party nominee Jill Stein and Constitution Party candidate Darrell Castle.


This election year, like countless ones before, many State High seniors will be preparing to vote in their very first election. It just so happens that their first may prove to be their most important, making it even more surprising that a majority of high schoolers, as well as a majority of Americans, are not even remotely familiar with any candidates beyond the nominees of the major two parties. According to a poll of 577 State High students conducted by senior Benjamin Scamacca, 93% of State High students are able to recognize and name both the Democratic and Republican candidates for President, while only 46% could identify both Johnson and Stein when shown their pictures.


“It’s a shame third-party candidates don’t get the recognition major party candidates receive, because they can be valid presidential options,” said Shane McCandless, a junior. Another junior, Jason Lee, suggested to “lower the debate threshold to 12%, that way third-party candidates can participate in policy discussions and get the exposure they need.” [Note: Candidates must currently be polling at above 15% to qualify for debates.] Johnson, Stein, and Castle all hope that they can make waves in name notoriety and voter support over the next month or so, rare (but not entirely unheard of) in American general election history.


According to a recent McClatchy-Marist poll, Johnson and Stein both rank higher than Republican-nominee Trump among young voters (age 18-29). Johnson has carved out noteworthy support from within the youth electorate, polling at 23% and only trailing Democratic-nominee Hillary Clinton in the category. The former New Mexico governor is considered to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal, as well as an outspoken advocate for the federal legalization of recreational marijuana. Interestingly enough, the 63-year old is incredibly active, having climbed Mount Everest and competed in the Ironman World Championship.


Also gaining traction with new voters is the 68-year old Stein, Johnson’s counterpart from the Green Party. Her 0.36% support in the 2012 election makes the Harvard educated doctor the most successful female candidate in U.S. Presidential History (presumably a title that will fall to Hillary Clinton this November, if recent polls are to be believed). Stein most notably petitions for U.S. investment in clean, renewable energy, as well as single-payer healthcare. Stein and Johnson join Constitution Party-nominee Darrell Castle, an advocate of ending the Federal Reserve and the U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations, as the only three candidates besides the representatives of the two main parties to be featured on the ballots of more than twenty states.


American actress and screenwriter Nikki Reed once articulated that “[y]oung people need to vote. They need to get out there. Every vote counts. Educate yourself too. Don’t just vote. Know what you’re voting for, and stand by that.” The three third-party candidates profiled above would argue that it is simply irresponsible to make a decision without fully investigating all possible options. They would point to recent history to combat the notion that they are irrelevant in the American democratic system. In the 1992 presidential election, Independent candidate Ross Perot captured almost 20% of the vote, in a race that was decided by less than 6% between Bill Clinton.


“People haven’t really looked at third-party candidates positions on the issues, and I think if they do look at their positions, they will find distinct differences from the major candidates,” said junior Colin Vollmer. Vollmer stressed that Johnson and Stein were not merely just “watered-down” versions of the two major party candidates, but instead competent individuals with unique stances on the issues, stances that may be quite appealing to certain voting demographics. Social Studies teacher Andrew Merritt also lamented the lack of media coverage on alternative candidates, and stressed the importance of voter education. “I just think it’s a good part of democracy, and I believe in expanding the electorate, not shrinking it,” said Merritt. “But in order to make that happen, you need to be informed. You need to really dig in.”


Although an independent candidate has yet to win an election, there is no doubt they have influenced the outcome of many. And with current combined independent candidate support already totaling double digits, it is apparent this election will be no exception.