Can a third party spoil the presidential party?

Published: Jun. 2, 2016 at 1:51 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 2, 2016 at 10:01 PM CDT
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(WAFF) - When the media focuses on this year's presidential race, the spotlight is almost always shining on Republicans and Democrats. Yet, since this campaign has offered us so many twists, turns and surprises, some are wondering if a third party candidate can shake things up?

University of Alabama in Huntsville professor Clarke Rountree has published multiple books focusing on American politics. Rountree isn't sold on a third party changing the outcome of the presidential election in November. Yet, he admitted one trend is clear. Many voters are frustrated with the status quo.

Rountree said, "People feel like the system is rigged. And that's the appeal of the outsider, And that includes Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, of course. Both of them say we have to change the system."

Yet, when they say "change the system", does that mean the entire system? Will the current climate of consternation set the stage for a viable third political party? Marcia St. Louis, the President of the Downtown Republican Women of Huntsville, said, it won't happen because the GOP won't be divided!

"We're stronger than we've ever been. The ideas are changing and people are persuaded. And, frankly, younger people are coming in. So, different ideas are coming in and the best ideas rise to the top and are adopted," said St. Louis.

Not too long ago, many experts thought the Republicans would have a contested convention. Yet, Donald Trump has enough delegates for the nomination. Now, the Democrats are the ones dealing with division.  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said he's not dropping out even though the delegate math favors a Hillary Clinton nomination. Sanders delegate, Patrick Doyle of Huntsville, said the Democrats better listen to their concerns at the convention. Or, else!

"I think If they continue to ignore, continue to push off to the side and treat Bernie supporters like, you know, kind of the crazy ones, I think we're gonna get upset," Doyle said.

Yet, if Sanders supporters get blue about not winning enough blue states, will they turn to the green?

Doyle told us, "In the short term they could lose lots of votes to the Green Party.  And, I think the Green Party could potentially be the third party that we see."

So, while many voters are frustrated enough to search for something other than the status quo, is a third party a legitimate threat to the big two? Or, is it just a pipe dream?

Rountree said, "The problem is, our systems, our elections systems in states are rigged towards a two-party system. It's very difficult to get on the ballot."

Anson Knowles, Chairman of the Madison County Libertarian Party, is all too familiar with this elephant in the room.  He said, Alabama is one of the most restrictive states in the country for giving third parties access to the ballot.

"In the state of Alabama, if you want to get access to state-wide ballots as a Libertarian, you have to collect more than 40,000 valid signatures from registered voters in the state," he said.

Even though Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson has reached ten percent in one major poll, party leaders don't have any illusions he'll win the election. Instead, their goal is to win five percent of the nationwide vote. If that happens, they would qualify for more federal funding which would help with ballot access and voter recognition.

While some are optimistic about a third political option, Professor Rountree said, realistically, there are just too many roadblocks to breaking up the two party, party.

"The Supreme Court said years ago that It was okay for states to prefer a two-party system and to set up a system whereby third parties were having trouble getting in. So, I still feel like, in that sense, the system is still rigged against third parties."

Gary Johnson is hoping he'll hit the 15 percent mark in the upcoming presidential polls. If that becomes a reality, the Libertarian's top choice would join the Republican and Democratic nominees in the presidential debates.

The Green Party is expected to nominate Massachusetts doctor Jill Stein in August. Dr. Stein is already appealing to supporters of Bernie Sanders, asking for them to shift their passion to her campaign for president.

For a link to Dr. Rountree's bio and his published works on politics, click here.