How Third Parties Can Solve the "Spoiler" Problem … and Win Elections


The Problem: Most voters don’t vote for — often don’t even consider voting for — third parties because they view voting for a third party as helping the establishment party they most dislike. Disenchanted Democrats continue to vote for Democrats because they don’t want Republicans; disenchanted Republicans continue to vote for Republicans because they don’t want Democrats. This continues despite the relative bankruptcy of both establishment parties as reflected in polls and general disillusionment. – The Solution: Disenchanted Republicans and disenchanted Democrats should join together and both vote for the third party of their choice. They can each vote for the same party or they can each vote for different parties. This way they siphon off votes by twos from each of the establishment parties and give them both to third parties. This liberates the voters to vote their actual preference from among parties on the ballot, rather than to just pick the “least bad” of the two majors. It offers an enterprising third party a path to major electoral success.

What it’s not: This is not “vote swapping” — in which voters in “swing” states who want to vote for third parties “swap” votes with committed Democrats and Republicans in “safe” states. Unlike “swapping,” VotePact does not depend on the electoral college to work. It does not result in people voting for candidates they don’t want, rather it frees people to vote for candidates they do want, but are held back by fear. It does not link people up from different states; it compels people to join with people they know in a new way. And unlike “swapping,” VotePact is not an attempt to “minimize the damage” of a third party run — it is designed to actually shake up the political spectrum and open the door to actual electoral victory for third parties.

Reconfiguring the Political Spectrum: The dominant political alignment can be described as the “Cheney-Lieberman” axis. Progressives, libertarians, and authentic conservatives, as well as others, have been unrelentingly manipulated by the establishments of the two major parties. They should wake up to the fact that they can join together, rather than be kept apart by the establishment party apparatchiks who exploit them to maintain the duopoly.

Achieving Dialogue: This would facilitate and would be propelled by meaningful dialogue on the issues by citizens. This would likely emphasize issues in which the establishment parties have most colluded: constitutional powers, issues of war, corporate transnational-dominated trade, infringements on civil liberties and big money in politics to name a few. The creative powers of the citizens will likely produce “pair ups” that no political consultant could possibly have predicted. This could achieve a steady stream of novel news stories that could continue to draw attention to VotePact and the relevant third party candidate(s).

The Voting Precursors: The VotePact idea is not dissimilar from how politicians actually act towards one another — one votes for the other’s pet project and the favor is returned. The politicians manipulate the voting system all the time for their narrow interests; the people should be able to vote in a manner which maximizes the public interest. Note that VotePact would be largely irrelevant if instant runoff voting were adopted. But VotePact has one peculiar advantage even over even that system: it can help force meaningful dialogue between unlikely protagonists, potentially leading to a healthier political culture.

The Campaign Strategy: Get endorsements in pairs — a former union official with a small business owner for example. They would each give their reasons for voting for the candidate at a news conference, which would end with the candidate bringing them together, both shaking hands with the candidate in the middle. Thus the candidate is seen as bringing people together, ending the partisan bickering and moving people forward together in positive direction. This will be an example for other people, giving them ideas for how they can creatively “pair up” with someone else.

The creative powers of the citizenry could then be set free in a novel manner. No political consultant could possibly predict the vibrant ways people could “pair up.” Groups like “Democrats for Candidate C” and “Republicans for Candidate C” could be brought together to help people pair up.

This would work especially well for candidates (such as Kevin Zeese, running for the Senate seat in Maryland) who have gotten multiple party nominations and who are in the debates with the Democratic and Republican candidates.

Turing the “Spoiler” Question Around: VotePact is in a sense self-promoting; that is, it answers the perennial “aren’t you a spoiler” question in a direct manner. It does so in part by putting the onus on the questioner — by finding their “political mirror image” — to find a way out for themselves. The question is answered thus: “I understand your concern: you don’t want A to win, so you’d rather vote for B even though you really want to vote for me. There’s a way out for you: Join with someone in your life, someone you know and trust, a relative, a friend, a coworker, who prefers A to B and both agree to vote for me (or your friend can vote for some other third party candidate). This solution requires work, but it gets you political freedom. There’s a way out of your dilemma, I hope you’ll take it.”

People all over the world and throughout history have risked their lives and fortunes for political freedom. People in the U.S. today should be able to exert the emotional and mental strength to join with someone they disagree with to emancipate themselves from the two party duopoly.

The Issue of Trust: There is the issue of how the people can trust one another to actual vote for who they say they’ll vote for; this is similar to the classic “prisoner’s dilemma.” The major answer to this fear is dialogue, dialogue and more dialogue — for the people to really talk through what they want and to develop trust in the political realm that they have in other areas of life, as friends, co-workers or neighbors. This interweaves the personal and political. Another alternative is to both get absentee ballots, fill them out together and mail them together.

Creating a Three-Way Race: However, if VotePact has a substantial impact, it will affect the polling results and therefore its major consequence would be to let people see the viability of third parties. That is, VotePact helps the scales to drop from the peoples’ eyes so they can judge candidates on their merits rather than being confined to the Democratic-Republican horse race. Once this happens, trust in effect becomes less of an issue as the illusion of inevitability of Republican-Democratic dominance is shattered. Think of the success of Ventura; or that the Greens in Germany were fond of saying that they are not from the left or right, but out in front.

History: This idea was written about several times, but was never been seriously pursued. It was raised in Ralph Nader’s opening press conference in the 2004 campaign, but the Nader campaign did not adopt it until in the last few days of the campaign; though it was featured prominently on their web page at that point. But by its very nature, this is not a last minute maneuver — it should be central at the height of the campaign. To take effect, it requires the voters to have a serious dialogue with people who they have typically disagreed with, build trust, take political effect and spread. See: “A New Way To Vote — As A Duet” also, for related repercussions on polling, see: “Why Public Opinion Polls Aren’t

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Sam Husseini is an independent journalist. He writes at