Alternative political parties are major players in New York and Onondaga County, say party members and some political scientists.
“Third parties here play more of a role than anywhere else,” said Jeffrey Stonecash, a Syracuse University political science professor. “They’re not a spoiler.”
A lot of the values in the national civic conversation started with alternative political ideals, said Stonecash. Some of those issues aren’t immediately accepted, he added, and often the public has no idea that they originated with third parties.
New York recognizes close to 20 alternative parties. In Onondaga County, at least seven are recognized. At the state level, an alternative party needs to win at least 50,000 votes for every gubernatorial election. Then the party can live for another four years with state recognition, Stonecash said.
Here’s a look at Onondaga County’s voter enrollment with alternative parties, according to the Onondaga County Board of Elections. As of April 1, 2012:
Democratic Party: 98,467 or 36 percent of voter population.
Republican Party: 85,348 or 31 percent.
Independence Party: 13,135 or 4 percent.
Conservative Party: 5,556 or 1 percent.
Working Families Party: 1,256 or less than 1 percent.
Green Party: 664 or less than 1 percent.
Libertarian: 152 or less than 1 percent.
In addition to those voters, another 24 percent–or 66,673–are either unaffiliated with any party or belong to parties so small they aren’t officially recognized.
The Independence Party is the largest third party in the state. It allows non-affiliated members to vote in its primaries. It says it believes that socials issues like same-sex marriage and abortion should not be determined by party but by individuals, according to the Independence Party website.
The Conservative Party is celebrating its 50th anniversary in New York. It is against abortion, against same-sex marriage and favors English as the primary language taught in schools, according to the Conservative Party website.
“We are not involved in politics to go along just to get along,” said Mike Long, chairman of The Conservative Party. “We’re involved in the political process to try to move the agenda on various issues.” The party has, he said “a commonsense approach to make New York State a better place for future generations.”
The Working Families Party, in its 12th year of existence, casts itself as supporting the working-class. It favors raising the minimum wage, providing paid sick days for all New Yorkers and affordable healthcare for all citizens, according to the Working Families Party website.
The Working Families Party wants more people to vote under its name on the ballot, give money and recruit activists for its issues, said Jesse Lenney, upstate political director for the Working Families Party. “But it’s not for the sake of just getting more support,” he said, “but to make a better change.”
The Green Party’s focus is mainly on environmental sustainability. Its values also include supporting women’s rights and eliminating weapons of mass destruction, according to The Green Party’s website.
A third option in politics for voters is key because Democrats andRepublicans don’t provide everything a voter needs, said Howie Hawkins, chairman of The Green Party and a frequent candidate for multiple political offices. So far he has not been elected. Added Hawkins, “The voters should have a progressive political platform as an option, and they don’t have it now.”
The Libertarian Party’s main philosophy is having small government and a free-market solution to social problems. Among its principles: “All individuals are entitled to choose their own lifestyles, as long as they do not forcibly impose their values on others,” according to its website.
In New York, political candidates seek out third parties for an endorsement, said SU political scientist Stonecash. If candidates get a party’s endorsement, he said, the votes will follow.
“The party wants the candidate,” said Stonecash. “And the candidate wants the party.”
(Jake Reiner is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in European history.)