Third Party Election Results in Tennessee


Donald Hall, Senior Editor

Though the majority of the election spotlight has shone upon the candidates representing the Democratic and Republican parties, those candidates were not the only winners and losers coming out of election night. The two largest alternatives, the Libertarian and Green parties, saw many candidates facing uphill battles against the entrenched two-party system. 

The Libertarian party website claimed a total of 21 electoral victories this election cycle. Though the majority of these victories came at the city and county levels of government, Libertarian Marshall Burt won election to the Wyoming state House of Representatives, making him only the fifth Libertarian to be elected to a state legislature. 

The Green Party also saw a slate of 11 local candidates win elections, including the mayoral election of Emmanuel Estrada in Baldwin Park, California. Though these may seem like minor wins in the scope of national politics, in many places they are essential to retaining ballot access in the future. Without these victories, candidates may not be recognized by their state as belonging to a third party and would instead be listed as independent candidates on the ballot.   

For Tennesseans vying to win an election as a member of a third party, the battle for recognition was even tougher than gaining the electoral victory itself. Unlike their fellow candidates in the surrounding states of Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina, those running for elected office on third party platforms in Tennessee were unlikely to see any party designation next to their name this election year or in any soon to come. Though a bill introduced in the state House earlier this year tried to make it easier, a large sum of 56,000 petition signatures are currently required for an unrecognized party (any party other than Democrat or Republican) to be listed on the ballot next to a candidate’s name. 

However, this barrier did not stop candidates pursuing both local and national positions from getting on the ballot; they just had to register as Independents. A few of these candidates even saw moderate success: Libertarian-backed Trisha Butler won a City Council seat in nearby Clarksville. Three of her fellow Libertarians though, fell well short of victory in other Tennessee city contests in Hendersonville and Clarksville. 

The Green Party did not back any candidates for local election in Tennessee, but they did support candidates for two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and one in the Senate. Only Ronnie Henly, who was running for U.S. Senate, made it onto the ballot, and received just over 8,400 votes statewide. The other two, Josh Berger and John Miglietta, pulled in a very marginal number of votes as write-in candidates. 

While many expected alternatives to President Donald Trump and former Vice-President Joe Biden to fare well this election season, the results were nonetheless underwhelming, especially here in Tennessee. Libertarian presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen received 29,806 votes, or just 0.98% of the vote share. Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins received 4,532, or just 0.15% of the vote share. Both candidates vastly underperformed their predecessors from the 2016 presidential race, when the Libertarian and Green Party nominees received 70,084 votes (2.8%) and 15,919 votes (0.6%), respectively. 

Vanderbilt Political Review reached out to both the Libertarian and Green Party state organizations for comments on their respective party’s performance in the 2020 election. At the time of publishing, only the Green Party had responded. 

Jeremy Writt, Co-Chair of the Green Party of Tennessee

While we are not satisfied with the results of the election, we are extremely proud of all the Green Party candidates who ran and promoted the Ten Key Values, knowing that doing so would place them in the crosshairs of the electoral duopoly. We remain undeterred in our mission to be the home for progressives in Tennessee and will build on the energy of these campaigns to continue providing real solutions centered around peace, ecology, social justice, and democracy.”

Also on Tennessee ballots as Independents were presidential election newcomers Don Blankenship of the Constitution Party and musician Kanye West, the latter who ran under his newly-formed Birthday Party banner. Though both of them outperformed Hawkins, the two combined barely pulled over 15,500 votes state-wide. 

These low levels of performance bring into question the viability of third party candidates in elections for national office, but may provide new hope for those seeking alternatives at the local level.