Curt at Hunting the Muse has an excellent, and pragmatic, perspective on third-party preference voting and how wise leftists would be to set their preferences aside for now and work within the existing system.
Over the last couple of years, I have done quite a bit of research into U.S. political voting systems and various vote-counting methods. I've come up with the following conclusions:Curt's analysis is pretty spot-on, although I disagree with some of his conclusions. We both agree that the Electoral College isn't going anywhere, but I think that's a Good Thing. Given that political reality, Curt has some advise for far-left voters who are inclined to vote with their principles rather than support the Democratic party.
1. The presidential race should absolutely not have third-party candidates.
2. Preference voting is not the answer for presidential voting while the Electoral College exists.
3. Democrats and Greens need to share fault for 2000, and share the responsibility to join forces in 2004.
4. Bush technically had more electoral support than Gore even without the 5. Supreme Court's help.
But imagine what would happen should a Green, Libertarian, or Reform candidate get enough support to actually win a state or two. First, absolutely nothing happens for the third-party candidate. They would have to win at least the eleven most populous states (which includes California, Florida, and Texas; a strange trifecta). But, what would happen is that either the third party would be ideologically similar to one of the two major parties, splitting its support, or it would lead to none of the parties getting 270 votes.Curt then goes on to suggest that third parties form coalitions -- similar to what happens in parliamentary governments -- but it's clear to me that such coalitions would be powerless, in practice, apart from their major party member, as long as we stick with the present electoral system. (Coalitions would only be dragged towards the fringe by the junior partners, to the detriment of all in the coalition.)
When no candidate gets 270 votes, the election goes to Congress for them to decide among themselves. And unless the third party has strong congressional representation, they are out of luck.
The long and short of it is that if a third party wants to become president, they are either going to have to have a strong enough national party to enable them to win several states outright, or they are going to have to have a strong enough national party that they would have a plurality of congressional representatives in Congress. Either way, it requires a strong national party with significant local and statewide support and a significant number of elected officials. None of our third parties have this level of strong support at this time.
I know many people don't like the electoral system, but that's generally because their views are so far from the mainstream that they have no power under our winner-takes-all system. The Electoral College almost requires two major parties, and it also serves to drag both parties towards the "center" of the political spectrum. That fringe groups don't have representation isn't a bug, it's a feature. The electoral system serves to dampen out the political noise that can hamstring government, as can be seen in many European nations. When governments are forced to depend on coalitions, junior partners have an extraordinary amount of tie-breaking power that's vastly disproportional to their size. See, for further example of this effect, both the Democrat and Republican primaries.