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Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny

Third-party candidates are effectively shut out of the presidential race by the two major parties designed to squash the competition.

The following is an introduction and excerpt by Theresa Amato, author of Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny. Copyright 2009 Theresa Amato. Reprinted with permission by The New Press.

In the run up to the 2004 elections article after article appeared documenting the reigning chaos in our electoral procedures, and surmising that another “Florida 2000” could happen.  After the election, questions were raised in Ohio and in the gubernatorial race in Washington State, but in 2008, the infatuation with the electoral system was otherwise directed to the early primaries and the “historic” potential to elect Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.  With neither election as razor-close as the 537 vote discrepancy in Florida 2000, some of the prior attention paid to our electoral systems has waned.   

To the extent concern is shown, it tends to focus on the mechanics of registering to vote, keeping accurate lists, and having votes counted by machines of better-than-dubious programming or security.  Less concern is directed to the far more disenfranchising systemic problems of having a “winner-take-all” system that results in uncompetitive elections in most congressional and local races. Nor is there a widespread movement toward choice maximizing voting systems, or just better competition by structuring campaign finance systems to encourage participation for more than our millionaires or those who have access to them. 

In this country, we are really just at the beginning of understanding the deep flaws with our arcane electoral processes.  Virtually none of the attention is on the rights of third-party or independent candidates to compete on a level playing field with the major parties so that all voters, not just two-party voters, have a chance to vote for whom they want.  This book is written for third party and Independents candidates, their voters, the election law reformers and chroniclers, and all those who have tried or will try to grapple with the stunning incompetence and injustice of the broken, two-party dominated American electoral system. 

      -Theresa Amato, June 3, 2009 


Once people find out that I ran the Nader 2000 campaign, they often ask me if I am “sorry” that my first venture into electoral politics was to “help elect” George W. Bush. To the contrary, given how the two-party-imposed structural barriers have operated against third parties and independents in the last half century, I could not be more proud of our efforts to reveal and break down this exclusionary system and to help provide more voices and more choices to the American people. Third parties and independents are arguably the only remaining defenders of real political choice in the United States today. The fact that they continue to exist in a system so rigged against their participation, as this book will demonstrate, is nothing short of miraculous. Am I sorry? Oh yes—I am sorry that we have a broken and uncompetitive electoral system that traps Americans into poor choices and delivers worse government in almost every political cycle, failing for decades to fix, and sometimes even to discuss, intransigent problems like access to health care, poverty, immigration, global warming, fair trade, drug policies, a fossil fuel–dependent economy, racism, corporate crime, civil liberty violations, and many more. 

That said, am I sorry that against all odds, with no money, no experience, a ragtag team, and an embryonic Green Party, we put an alternative choice in front of the American people? Hell no. I would do it all again. And did. In 2004, I helped run the only major antiwar candidate for the general election when the Democrats lost their collective nerve and let George W. Bush march the United States into Iraq. And I hope third parties and independents of every stripe will run again and again and again. It doesn’t matter if I don’t agree with a word of what they say. Just like exotic animals I would never make an effort to see, I want third parties and independents to run because I fear for their extinction. It reassures me to see them—like planet ecodiversity. I have never really gone out of my way to see a bird, though millions of Americans apparently do every year. But I wouldn’t want just two bird species or brands of toothpaste or flowers, even if I always do order the red roses. And I don’t want just two-party candidates on my ballot, even if I were never to vote for a third party or an independent such as John Anderson, Ross Perot, or Ralph Nader. I want all individuals to have a fair chance to run—for as long as it takes to get a better electoral system and better leadership for the American people.  

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