Having reached the legal voting age, I will be eligible to vote in this year's presidential election for the first time in my life. After ages of watching debates and giving my two cents on the issues to anyone who would listen, my years as a politically savvy adolescent have led up to the chance to contribute directly to the democratic process. Indeed, it should be an exciting occasion, but my enthusiasm is dampened by the knowledge that as long as America is caught in a cycle of two-party tyranny, my vote is essentially meaningless.
Every election cycle, voters are sent a clear message from the two major parties that if their views don't fit into neat little "liberal" or "conservative" boxes, they aren't worthy of representation. If you're not one of us, they're told, you're nobody.
Were it merely a product of popular opinion, the two party system wouldn't really be worth complaining about, but the fact is that the only reason the two parties consistently win is that they make the rules. Is it any coincidence that the people who write election laws are also the ones who win elections? Is it far-fetched to think that maybe the establishment candidate who cruises onto the ballot while his third-party opponent is bombarded with a massive petition quota isn't playing on an even field?
Even if a third-party candidate manages to gain ballot access (a miraculous feat in many states), getting sued off the ballot is a common occurrence. Legal challenges, which are often arbitrary but consistently waste time and money, are a popular way for Democratic and Republican candidates to knock their opponents out of the race.
Even the Commission on Presidential Debates identifies itself as a bipartisan entity, thus making open debates virtually impossible. Their eligibility requirements rule out all but the most high-profile candidates, even though national polls have repeatedly shown that voters overwhelmingly want to hear from all candidates.
Meanwhile, media bias guarantees an additional stumbling block. The mainstream media will readily ignore the need to provide crucial information in favor of stories that are more likely to sell.
Between time-consuming ballot access requirements, resource-draining legal battles, and campaign finance laws that blatantly favor the political establishment, third-party candidates are weighed down so that the people in power stay in power. The result is a less representative government, countless new ideas and perspectives shut out of the debate, important issues being ignored, and millions of voters who are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.
You don't have to look far to see the failings of our political system: a mounting deficit, soaring unemployment, a prolonged addiction to imported oil, single-digit Congressional approval ratings, etc. Is it unreasonable to think that the solutions to these problems are the ones being suppressed? Think of the potential, the talent and the leadership that we're shutting out by putting up a "do not enter" sign to anyone who doesn't fit into a two-party pigeonhole.
A common argument is that third-party candidates don't get votes because people don't like them. The reality is that the candidates are so suppressed by a process that endorses their defeat, they can't even compete. In fact, %80 of Americans are unsatisfied with the two-party system. Even the Supreme Court has ruled, without legisative avail, against the laws that give them an unfair advantage.
Another claim is that third-party candidates are "spoilers"; that they take votes away from more "deserving" candidates. However, the idea that anyone is entitled to votes contradicts the very idea of free elections. Not to mention, third-party candidates are the only ones advocating the electoral reforms that would prevent "spoiler" scenarios from happening.
The bottom line: we're well overdue for a change. It might not happen in 2012, but until it does, the idea of fair elections that our founding fathers envisioned will be obscured by politicians who put power before democracy.