Election 2016: Think Three’s a Crowd? Try 2,000

By Thomas L. Knapp

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson is a “fringe candidate.” I’m not sure what definition of “fringe” Trump is using. Johnson is a former governor, elected twice as a Republican in a Democrat-leaning state. Trump’s main presidential qualification seems to be his legendary skill at trolling his opponents on Twitter.

Democratic presidential  nominee Hillary Clinton hasn’t deigned to notice likely Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Instead she’s dispatched proxies like runner-up Bernie Sanders (“We have got to defeat Donald Trump. And we have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. … this is the real world that we live in”) to heap scorn on the practicality of a post-Philadelphia campaign from Clinton’s left.

OK, I admit it: History and money say the odds are with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — that one of them will be the next president of the United States. The last time a third party or independent candidate really threatened to win the White House was 1992, when Ross Perot knocked down nearly 20% of the popular vote, having at one time polled ahead of both Republican incumbent George HW Bush and the eventual winner, Democratic nominee Bill Clinton.

But it’s strange year. It feels like almost anything could happen. And while Clinton and Trump are the frontrunners, the field is, well, YUGE.

As of July 27, the Federal Elections Commission lists 1,814 candidates for president on its web site.

It’s true that some of them have dropped out, or have been eliminated in party nomination processes, or haven’t done anything EXCEPT file an FEC “statement of candidacy.” Most of them won’t appear on any state ballots, or even register themselves with election authorities as write-in options.

On the other hand, some candidates who haven’t submitted FEC statements may show up on your ballot this November. Candidates are only required to file an FEC  Form 2 once they’ve raised or spent $5,000. In some states, ballot access doesn’t cost that much.

If you’re an American voter, you have options. Republicans and Democrats will tell you that you’re “wasting your vote” if you don’t pick one of the two leading brands. I don’t think they’re right — what’s the point of voting if you’re not voting for who or what you actually support? — but even if they’re right, well, it’s your vote to waste, isn’t it?

For once I agree with Ted Cruz: If you vote, vote your conscience.



Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.  He is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).

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Thomas Knapp
Thomas Knapp
5 years ago

Citizen Reporter,

No, the net effect of my recommendations would not be to “help Hillary,” even if the “wasted vote” myth was true.

The Green candidate will almost certainly receive more votes from people who would otherwise vote for Clinton than from people who would otherwise vote for Trump.

The Libertarian candidate usually pulls votes about evenly from people who, if there was no Libertarian on the ballot, would end up voting for either the Democrats or Republicans, but he seems to be leaning more toward “costing” Clinton votes this time around.

And then of course there are the voters like me who would not vote for either Trump or Clinton under any circumstances and whose votes therefore come “from” neither major party candidate’s column nor redound “to” the others.

A vote for a candidate is a vote for that candidate, period, end of story. The notion that that vote belongs to some other candidate and that it is unnatural for it to go anywhere else is, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid.

Citizen Reporter
5 years ago
Reply to  Thomas Knapp

Mr. Knapp:

1. I’m not saying that the vote “belongs” to another candidate, although some seem to think so. But the net effect this year would be to help put Hillary over the top. Even columnist L. Neil Smith recognizes Trump as the lesser of evils of the only two candidates with a chance to win.

2. Yes, I agree that Stein would take more votes away from Hillary, but her effect on the election will be marginal. But that may be all it takes. However, Johnson would take more from Trump. Having met with him twice in the past and studied his platform, I do not think he has what it takes. If a third party candidate had built a credible campaign and demonstrated the platform and strength to earn our votes, it would have been a different story. The last time any third party candidate came even close to that was in 1992. A combination of opposition dirty tricks, hesitance to vote “third party,” a weak Republican candidate and Perot’s bizarre behavior resulted in his failure to capture the presidency. So, Clinton won with only a plurality, not a majority, of the vote.

Citizen Reporter
5 years ago

The net effect of your recommendations, if successful, would be to help Hillary.

Citizen Reporter
5 years ago

Bernie just quit the Democrat party. I she now “fringe” too?