Voting third party won’t change the two-party system. Here’s what can.

The need for electoral reform is one of the few things most of us agree on

Source: Canva

ost of us are probably aware of ways our two-party electoral system screws Americans over.

These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Political polarization that divides our citizens and weakens our nation.

2. Political nominees who primarily represent the interests of their party rather than the interests of the American people.

3. Elections that result in a president who has not won the popular vote.

4. The “spoiler effect” or “vote splitting.” This discourages voters from choosing third-party candidates for fear that it will result in the election of their least-favorite candidate .

The Founding Fathers warned against the danger of two-party partisanship:

The alternate domination of one [party] over another…is itself a frightful despotism.

George Washington

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties…[This] is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.

John Adams

The election of 1796 was the first one where candidates at all levels ran under the banners of two organized, oppositional political parties: the Federalist Party and the anti-federalist Democratic-Republican Party — also known as the Republicans, or Jeffersonian Republicans.

Since then, our country has stayed divided, with political parties winning legislative disputes that have only intensified their power to subvert and exploit the American people.

However, the American people are united on at least this front: we recognize the failings of the two-party system and the dire need to reform it in order to reclaim our forefathers’ vision of a Union governed by the people, for the people.

There are specific changes we can implement to accomplish that. Here are some major ones:

1. Establish a national Rank-Choice Voting (RCV) system

Our current “Winner-Takes-All” system allows voters to choose only one candidate on their ballot. This system compels voters to choose NOT the candidate who they most favor, but rather the candidate who they think is most likely to BEAT their least-favorite candidate.

Because of this, third-party candidates are at an enormous disadvantage. Even if they run on a popular and unifying platform, voters will be hesitant to cast ballots in their favor out of fear that it will detract votes from their second-favorite candidate and result in the election of their least-favorite candidate.

A Rank-Choice Voting system allows voters to rank candidates by preference on their ballots. This gives third-party candidates a shot at winning the popular vote and encourages candidates to run on unifying platforms that appeal to the majority rather than polarized factions. This system also requires that voters are able to vote for candidates who may not share their personal party affiliation.

These are places in the United States where RCV systems are already being used. FairVote is a non-profit that does a lot of education and advocacy in this area.

2. Eliminate the Electoral College

The Electoral College was originally implemented as a concession to the Federalists, who were wary of a direct democracy. They believed that common people were unqualified to have the final say in electing their president, which Alexander Hamilton argued should ultimately be determined “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.”

This elitist notion, borne of a time when public education and the Internet did not exist, is obsolete, rooted in aristocratic tyranny, and insulting to Americans’ basic capability to research and recognize candidates that best serve their individual and collective interests.

Another argument Federalists made in favor of the Electoral College was that it would theoretically provide a fail-safe to prohibit a “tyranny of the majority,” where a dominant group might leverage their power to oppress a minority. However, while conceived in good intention, in practice the Electoral College has resulted in a tyranny of the minority, with low-population states given outsize influence on the presidential election outcome, against the vocal opposition of the diverse majority. We’ve seen this outcome manifest most-recently in the 2000 and 2016 elections.

Coupled with a Winner-Takes-All voting system, the Electoral College has served to greatly undermine and overrule the People’s right to democratic representation. Therefore, abolishing it is essential to a solid voting reform plan.

3. Create a government website that features the platforms of all presidential candidates

This action can promote fair campaigning and voter access to basic information about each candidates’ background and views. The federal government should be responsible for maintaining a digital, ad-free platform that educates citizens about the political process, their civic voting rights, and the eligible candidates for president.

While this reform does not directly get the money out of politics, it creates an equitable campaigning resource that can help diminish the impact that financial contributions currently have on influencing election outcomes.

4. Automatically register U.S. citizens to vote when they apply for a driver’s license

This reform streamlines and expands the convenience of voter registration, which encourages broader enfranchisement and voter participation, essential to maintaining the integrity of our democratic process.

5. Make Election Day a federal holiday

At least Virginia and Illinois have already made Election Day a state holiday. Making Election Day a federal holiday ensures that more people are ensured time off to exercise their right to vote. For those essential workers who may not be able to take the full day off, they should be paid overtime and granted provisions to ensure their vote is counted.


America’s two-party system has wreaked havoc on our national identity, pitting friends and family against each other as a way to generate party loyalty and fomenting a divide that threatens our national security and decaying semblance of democracy. The only true beneficiaries under these conditions are those career politicians and oligarchs whose rule does not depend on any election outcome.

By demanding actionable reforms, we can fulfill the original vision of America’s forefathers: a system that incentivizes candidates to appeal to the common interests of the majority rather than the fringe interests of identity-based factions. A system that encourages candidates to run on solution-based platforms rather than attack-based platforms. A system where the people rule the government, and not the other way around.

For now, vote-splitting is a legitimate concern, unfortunately; in this election, no matter what “side” you’re on, voting third party will only help your least-favorite candidate win. It just is what it is.

Let’s make sure things are different by 2024.

Social change strategist. I nudge people outside their echo chambers for the common good.

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