Third-party voters in the Lehigh Valley call for changes to the country’s election system

Written by on October 8, 2020

Third-party voters in the Lehigh Valley call for changes to the country’s election system

By Stephen Jiwanmall

October 8, 2020

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By Stephen Jiwanmall / WLVR

As the election approaches, most eyes are on Republicans and Democrats – but third-party voters can play a crucial role in close elections. As WLVR’s Stephen Jiwanmall reports, they want to break up the country’s two-party system, and their numbers are growing.

If you drive around the Lehigh Valley looking at flags and yard signs, you might think Trump and Biden are the only ones vying for the White House. But Pennsylvania voters will also see Libertarian Jo Jorgensen on the ballot.

In Northampton County, just 3% of voters are actually registered to a third party. Jane Horvath leads the county’s Libertarian Party chapter. She says supporting a third-party candidate is more about conscience than the likelihood of winning.

“Why wouldn’t I vote for the person who I would like to see [in] office, rather than vote against someone that I think is more bad than the other? It just doesn’t make sense to me to vote any other way,” said Horvath.

Tina Olson registered with the Green Party after the primary. Her choice for president, Howie Hawkins, won’t even be on the ballot in Pennsylvania.

The State Supreme Court removed him after Democrats claimed the Green Party didn’t submit paperwork properly. 

Olson says she’ll write in Hawkins’ name and that she blames Democrats for stifling third-party voices.

“We really need to look at how we have ballot access in general, because when a party has so much money and can take another party to court and just zap them of their entire funds, I think that should be illegal.”

Olson had to register as a Democrat earlier this year just so she could vote in the primary. That’s because in Pennsylvania, those elections are only for registered Republicans and Democrats. 

And that may explain why third-party registration is low, says Chris Borick with the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

“We have a lot of individuals in Pennsylvania that are registered as either Democrat or Republican, but when you ask them how they consider themselves, they say they’re independent. They are not really of the party, even if they are registered that way, and that’s important to know – and that number has been growing,” said Borick.

In 2016, roughly 270,000 Pennsylvanians voted for someone other than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Trump’s margin of victory in the commonwealth was just 44,000 votes.

Third-party voters point out that the outcome would’ve been different if they could have chosen more than one candidate. But they differ on what that would look like. 

Under the current system – “plurality voting” – only one choice is allowed per race. 

Horvath – the local Libertarian Party chair – backs “approval voting,” where people can choose multiple candidates in a race. She says it’s one way to level the playing field.

“It’s you voting your conscience, and then, each of those candidates that you like – you like this one, you like that one – equal weight. If everybody does that, there is no spoiler, because the person with the most votes wins.”

On the other hand, Tina Olson with the Green Party wants to see “ranked choice voting.” 

In that model, people can pick more than one candidate, like approval voting, but they would list them by preference. Olson spells out how this would work in the upcoming election.

“Let’s say I vote for Howie Hawkins, and I really don’t want Trump to win again. There’s a very good chance that if I could vote Biden as my second choice, my vote would count towards that,” said Olson.

Though the race for president does not favor lesser-known candidates, third-party voters say they do have a shot at state and local races. 

In Pennsylvania, Libertarian and Green Party candidates are running for state treasurer, attorney general and auditor general.

Third-party voters in Pennsylvania were a critical factor in the last presidential election, and they say they don’t want to be ignored this time around.

In addition to the presidential race, Libertarian and Green Party candidates are running for state offices in Pennsylvania, including auditor general, attorney general and state treasurer. For a link to sample ballots in Northampton County, click HERE.

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