Op-Ed by NATHAN INKS
In recent years, American politics has grown increasingly polarized. From the Affordable Care Act passing with no Republican votes to the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, where only two Senators crossed party lines, fierce partisanship has become the norm.
In 1780, John Adams warned of such a scenario, writing, “There is nothing I dread so much, as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil, under our Constitution.”
More and more Americans seem to be heeding these words. Since 2012, polls have consistently shown that, for the first time in recent history, more Americans identify as independent than Republican or Democrat.
While there have been periods of time in the past where a plurality of Americans identify as independent – that number has never been as consistently high as it is now.
It is in this odd climate – a mix of hyperpartisanship and dissatisfaction with both parties – that independent and third-party candidates have received increasing attention. This is especially true here in Michigan.
Chris Graveline, a veteran attorney who worked for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, secured a spot on the ballot for the attorney general race as a “No Party Affiliation” candidate. The path to the ballot was not easy for Graveline, who needed to collect 30,000 signatures in 180 days to appear on the ballot under the current law. No independent candidate has been able to do that since the law was enacted 30 years ago, and Graveline successfully challenged the law in federal court, securing his place on the ballot by collecting over 14,000 signatures.
In a similar vein, for the first time in Michigan’s history, three parties selected their gubernatorial nominees during the August primary. As a result of presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s performance in the state in 2016, the Libertarian Party secured what is commonly referred to as “major party status,” meaning that it is eligible to nominate some of its candidates via a primary instead of a convention. This has benefits, as having candidates appear on a primary ballot increases name recognition of those candidates.
But while the Libertarian Party may have “major party status” in Michigan – a status that it may lose if its performance in 2018 is insufficient – it is still forced to sit on the sidelines for much of the political process. The Libertarian candidate for governor, Bill Gelineau, will not be allowed to participate in either gubernatorial debate. Seats on the Board of State Canvassers, the body that oversees much of the election process, are allocated to only the two top-performing parties.
Even Proposal 2, the Voters Not Politicians redistricting proposal, would only allocate partisan-affiliated seats on the independent citizens redistricting commission to the two parties with the most legislators.
This is not to say that third parties are without problems.
Even with increased attention and success, the Libertarian Party could not manage to nominate an attorney for their attorney general candidate. Decades of kooky independent and third-party candidates, combined with little chance for success, have turned off many voters to the idea of not voting for a Republican or a Democrat. There are certainly flaws with many independent and third-party candidates, but there are also significant flaws with the current two-party system.
Regardless of whether the rise of independent and third-party candidates results in significant changes to the nation’s two-party system, hopefully it will push both Republicans and Democrats to focus less on opposition to the other and more on governing for the good of the American people.