Op-ed: After the election, Utah still needs third-party voices

This Op-ed was originally published in the Deseret News. To see the original version, click here.

Watching the 3rd Congressional District debate hosted by the Alliance for a Better Utah Education Fund and the University of Utah’s John R. Park Debate Society made one thing very clear: Political discourse is incredibly important.

While the election may be over and Utah has elected former Provo mayor John Curtis, it’s still valuable to note how this debate, in particular, showed that having third-party voices represented in political discourse is imperative in allowing voters to find which candidate really represents their political beliefs.

The dialogue among the Democratic, Republican, United Utah and Libertarian candidates in the debate especially showed the importance of encouraging third-party voices in Utah politics. For too long, we have put the Democratic and Republican parties at the forefront of political discussions, assuming their party platforms are enough to cover each candidate’s or voter’s beliefs. However, most of the time, our political ideas are more than a just a party and probably do not fully represent everything on the party platform — both the good and bad.

In almost every election, the public and media attach stereotypes to the candidates from each political party, but applied party positions such as “pro-life” and “anti-gun” make it incredibly hard to find the party that may best represent our diverse beliefs. The two-party system, and the divide in positions that comes with it, often forces voters to pick a side or sit out of the conversation, but, believe it or not, there are gun-toting Democrats and pro-choice Republicans.

Because the two-party system and the divide in positions is so ingrained in how we understand politics, we often forget the importance of bringing third-party voices into the conversation. Third parties tend to capture those who don’t fit into the traditional molds: Libertarians may hold views commonly associated with social liberalism, while the United Utah Party is attempting to create a place for moderate voters. The more difficult we make it to hear from these third-party candidates or to research candidates’ positions, the more likely voters are to choose a candidate who does not fully — or even closely — align with their beliefs.

The ABU Education Fund and Debate Society’s debate was a breath of fresh air compared with the national third-party lockout. Events like this debate that include multiple positions are a step in the right direction toward inclusive representation of all political ideologies. At ABU, we believe it is important for community members to be civically engaged and aware of the positions of the candidates on the ballot.

By showcasing multiple voices in events like this debate, we believe we can begin to bridge the gap between voting based on party affiliation and voting based on candidate positions. No one should justify lack of political engagement by saying no one represents their beliefs; as a society we need to do better at making sure all voices are heard.

When the political sphere gets difficult to understand or participate in, the answer is not to give up or give in: It is to keep going. We need a more holistic understanding of what parties and candidates really stand for. We need to push for what we believe. And then we need to listen to candidates to ensure they have listened to us.

Yes, this election has finished, but it can still serve as a model for how third parties can and should be present in our political discourse, as well as how we ought to go about listening to them.

Though we were not able to pull away from electing yet another Republican here in Utah, we can still acknowledge that until we distance ourselves from the idea that everyone is a Democrat or Republican, we will not make advancements in politics or peel away from a nonrepresentative system.

This is why we need more conversations like the ones that took place at the 3rd Congressional District debate: to show us that though we may not feel we have more than two options for a while, including third-party voices elevates the conversation. This allows us to gain more knowledge on candidates and come away with yard signs we believe in.

Averie Vockel is an intern with Alliance for a Better Utah.

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