Nestor: Third-party candidates relegated to ‘political ghetto’Written by Stacy Jurich | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean Nestor is Lucas County Green Party co-chairman and Secretary of the Ohio Green Party.
Toledo Free Press: Dr. Jill Stein is the Green Party candidate for president of the United States with running mate Cheri Honkala. Why haven’t the American voters heard from Stein or the other third-party candidates in the presidential debates? How is this representative of the current state of our democracy?
Sean Nestor: There are a number of discreet laws and policies in place which are intentionally designed to relegate third parties to a political ghetto. If you’re a third-party candidate who wishes to be on the ballot, you’ll be asked to gather tens of thousands of signatures in a very short time frame.
In spite of these obstacles, third parties like the Greens and Libertarians are on the ballot in most states. However, both [Stein] and Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, have been completely shut out of the presidential debates on flagrantly partisan grounds. This is because the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has put on the presidential debates since 1988, is openly just a collaboration between the Democratic and Republican parties.
The end result of all this is that many voters write off third-party candidates. We effectively are provided with precisely one party more than a Soviet state. It’s remarkable that so many can see how having consumer options is a demonstration of our economic freedom, yet seem not to apply that same principle to our elections.
Toledo Free Press: We hear many voters are dissatisfied with Obama’s presidency and have lost their “hope”for him, so to speak, yet won’t vote for a candidate they better align with because Obama will be “better” than Romney. What do you have to say to these “I’m choosing the lesser of two evils” voters?
Nestor: As someone with an engineering background, I can’t help but reject the circular logic of not voting for a candidate simply because they “can’t win.” They can’t win because you won’t vote for them because they can’t win because you won’t vote for them because … ad nauseam. It’s a self-defeating argument that I think is proffered more to rationalize a hesitance to go down the relatively unbeaten path of third-party politics and continue along the tried, true and terrible. I know it’s not an easy decision for people to make, but more people are doing it all the time — and I do think it carries the greatest potential to effect real and positive change.
Toledo Free Press: Does a candidate outside of the two-party system have a chance at winning a presidency? What’s the point of running a candidate with the Green Party if she’s not going to win?
Nestor: Anything is possible. The Republicans were a third party until Lincoln was elected on a then-radical abolitionist platform. There are many practical reasons to put your vote behind a third-party candidate for the presidency. In Ohio, our recognition as a party is contingent upon our state-wide candidates receiving 1 percent of the popular vote each election cycle.
There is also the matter of opening access to federal funding, which the Democrats and Republicans have enjoyed for years. If we receive 5 percent of the popular vote nationwide, by law our party will be entitled to about $20 million in federal funds next election, which would be a game-changer since Greens have a policy of not accepting any kind of PAC or union money in campaigns — only individual contributions.
I think it’s a matter of looking at the long run and wanting to win a real democracy rather than just a single election.
Toledo Free Press: In 2011 you ran for Toledo City Council as a Green in District 6, and I know you have spent a lot of time getting to know the local Board of Elections (BOE). How are third parties received in Toledo?
Nestor: From an individual perspective, I’ve been treated wonderfully. From a systemic perspective, I’m ancillary and a nuisance. If I want to sign up to be a poll worker or apply for a job at the BOE, I have to declare myself a Democrat or a Republican and work under an official who is committed to that party. Across Ohio, only 12.97 percent of voters are registered as Democrats, and 18.27 percent are registered as Republicans, and 68.62 percent have no declared party affiliation. The moment you want to participate in civic processes, you are forced to take sides in a two-party system that has no explicit overarching legal foundation. Coupled with our consistently dismal voter turnout, I see an America that desperately wants to hear more choices than what it’s being provided.
As Jill Stein has said, “The politics of fear have given us everything we’re afraid of.”