Every election cycle, the same procedures hit us. The candidates are new, but the same structure of two candidates ? a Republican and a Democrat ? exists for every issue, as voters try to balance their views on these two parties and on how candidates fit into them.

More frequently however, voters have found themselves with a different setup. Instead of just two candidates, voters are finding additional candidates on their ballots from parties they may not have heard of.

The practice of third party politics is not new to America ? there has been a third-party challenger for every presidential election since 1824. The current Republican party was a small third party that formed and blossomed in the restructuring of American politics immediately preceding the Civil War.

Why, then, hasn’t a third-party candidate found himself in Congress or as President? They have, actually, on a few rare occasions ? Socialists at the turn of the century ? but mainly they have not built enough support to carry seats above city councilor in rank. The thing that is forgotten too often is that third parties don’t actually need to win.

This can seem like a waste of resources. Fielding a candidate is an expensive prospect. The rewards for third parties, however, come from the campaign.

When I registered as member of the Green party, I did so not because I am determined to commit all of my political efforts to the environment, nor because I feel that we should have a Green as president. My membership is a signal to the Democratic party ? “I support you, but the environment is the most important thing to me. Do as you need on other issues, I will weigh those separately, but if you don’t focus on the environment, I will take my support elsewhere.”

In other words, while we might field a candidate, we don’t really even need to vote for him. All we need to do is make sure that those who would support us are still paying attention to things we find most important.

Beyond that, our candidate helps more to make sure that our message continues to get publicity. Our party got too wrapped up in Ralph Nader in 2000 ? yes, some of us admit it was a mistake ? but that will not discourage supporting another Green. Support during the campaign and votes are different things.

Besides, we keep the elections interesting. Without third parties, you would never get to hear someone make such promises as “I will? get the UN off American soil.” ? something Lon Mabon, Constitution party candidate for US Senate, actually said in my home state.

So, now that the election is winding down, take a look at the issues. Chances are, some of the major issues that have been decided and debated were initiated by third-parties.

Feel brave and join a third party. When Election Day comes around next time, you can still vote for the Democrat or the Republican. Most of us did.

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