by Mikel Ham
The 2016 presidential race has reinforced the belief that America’s current political party system is flawed, at best. Two factions, often seen as polar opposites, dominate the national discussion on every issue, while smaller parties and independent voters are left disenfranchised.
To choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, in the minds of many voters, is to choose the candidate they see as the lesser of two evils. The question is, how long can voters choose the lesser evil, before there is no distinction between the two? And how can the voices of all be heard, so that, perhaps, there could candidates who aren’t evil at all?
Two Parties, and a House Divided
The biggest issue with bipartisan voting is it creates an “us or them” mentality; congress will destroy a bill, regardless of its merit, for the sole reason that it was brought forth by the opposing party.
Bringing a bill in front of Congress is almost like selling a used car. Representatives and senators will write the bill with way more in it than what they want to accomplish, in order to be “talked down” to what they actually want.
Given the kind of partisan bickering and lack of cooperation seen over the last decade, is it any wonder that most Americans say they’re independent, rather than claiming to be a Democrat or Republican?
Important Issues are Being Ignored
Consider healthcare, a major issue frequently debated by both Republicans and Democrats. Who doesn’t want affordable health care for the entire public? Who doesn’t want the sick and disabled to be cared for? By taking the desired end results into account, bills that support these issues should, in theory, be highly desired by both parties.
Instead, we see gridlock.
For a long time, the Republican right has taken a position against socialized medicine, which runs a hard line against the party’s corporate backing. From the free market perspective, if the government is going to move from subsidizing industries to actively socializing them, many large companies will lose out on existing profits and control of the market. If the government provides healthcare to its citizens, then how would the private sector compete?
There is nothing wrong with a free market—but it shouldn’t cost someone $900 just to go an emergency room.
In fact, the free market for medicine is fairly new in American history, only starting during WWII—since the country could not fund both the war effort and the population’s medical needs, the private sector emerged to fill the gap. Healthcare is a great example of a public need that has been privatized, and needs to be reigned back in by government.
Most people would probably agree that there are problems with the current healthcare system in the United States, even if they can’t always agree on how to fix them—58 percent of Americans support single-payer healthcare, for example, and public opinion of the Affordable Care Act is all over the map.
But healthcare is only one issue—what about the cost and quality of education, military spending, or paying for maintenance of roads and bridges across the country?
It seems that on every major problem facing the United States, Democrats and Republicans can’t see eye to eye. If the two dominant parties in our system can’t agree on what’s best for the country, and are in fact operating largely out of spite for each other, then how can we trust either party to choose candidates for the Presidency?
Decision 2016: Who Chooses the Choosers?
As it stands, the 2016 presidential campaign has been loud, and ugly. What started with over 23 candidates and some of the most caucus participation in history, is ending in email scandals and comparisons of hand size. Two candidates remain, each one appealing to voters as being less toxic than the other.
But has it all been sound and fury, signifying nothing?
The primary elections are already flawed systems, where the popular votes have no direct effect on the outcome. Each party has a convention, where delegates chosen at the primaries and caucuses meet and cast the final vote to choose the final nominees—and that doesn’t even consider superdelegates or contested conventions, mechanisms where parties can override the popular vote altogether.
So, what about votes in the general election, where we choose from the party nominees?
The Electoral College is set up so that the electors are private parties, and while they usually vote along the lines of the party that chose them, they have no obligation to do so. Electors who vote opposite of the party that selected them are known as faithless electors.
The most surprising and little known thing in regards to electors is that the ability of the public (or more practically, political parties formed from groups of the public) to vote on electors is a tradition, and not a rule.
The original right to choose electors belonged to the state government, and still technically resides there. It wouldn’t make sense in a logical world for the person receiving the most popular votes to not receive the delegate votes that decide candidacy or seat of office, but it has been known to happen multiple times in history.
The most recent case was in 2000, when George W. Bush was declared the winner over Al Gore, even though he had approximately 540,000 less popular votes.
Other instances include Adams in 1824, with 38,000 less votes than Jackson; Hayes over Tilden in 1876, with 250,000 less votes; and Harrison’s victory over Cleveland in 1888, with 90,000 less votes in the popular election.
Fewer Choices, Louder Voices
Another issue is that, when thinking of the primaries or the general election, only Republicans and Democrats come to mind. Where are the independent parties? Why do they have no representation? Why is it that you can only vote in the primary if you register as a Democrat or Republican?
The primary system, in and of itself, ensures that voters will get the extreme right or the extreme left candidates running for office. Rarely will voters be presented with middle-ground candidates, willing to compromise across party lines and ideals, and this further alienates voters who themselves are not far right or far left.
With no third-party candidates able to step in when the major two parties’ only mission is to shut each other down, the system can only produce legislative gridlock. With no third-party candidates to challenge the distribution of electoral votes, the system guarantees the victory of the same old tired politics over progress—you have two choices, they were the same choices four years ago, and no one is going to be happy.
People seem to vote based on party lines because, in their minds, the established parties are simply the way it’s always been. What most people don’t realize is that the modern two-party system was never meant to exist; many of the founding fathers, John Adams among them, were against such a system. In a letter from Adams to Jonathan Jackson, Adams stated:
“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader and converting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our constitution.”
Two parties constantly fighting leave an ideologically barren political landscape in their wake. Independent voters and third parties could help to break up the deadlock, but only if voters understand that they can challenge the system and are active in taking that challenge to the ballot box.
The Republic Remains
If we have established that there is an issue with the current two-party system, how do we, as a country, go about resolving it?
The answer is simple in theory, if difficult in practice. Americans reside in a democratic republic. Our government is of the people, by the people, for the people—in many ways, that mentality seems to have been lost.
If Americans refuse to vote based on party lines, and vote instead based on the issues, they show the party leadership that politicians can’t just campaign as polar opposites of each other, and instead will have to do more to entertain the policies and positions of the other side—work together, or be out of work.
If Americans show they are more willing to vote for a third party, instead of voting for the most extreme candidates from the far left or far right, they tell party leadership that there is an expiration date on the platform of slinging mud across the aisle—play nice, or the people will choose another player.
The people can change the kinds of candidates put in front of them during elections, and they can change the tone and course of policies, by being active and reminding politicians who they’re supposed to represent.
Mikel Ham is a 25-year-old writer and military veteran, working towards becoming a teacher. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org