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Whether for president or Congress, some local voters going a third way

In the 2016 presidential election, more than 5% of voters nationwide voted for a third-party or write-in candidate — a 20-year high — while 4.5% of Connecticut voters did so.

But polling data suggests, and political scientists agree, that the share will be lower this election. In late August, NBC News reported that among 215 voters interviewed who said they backed Gary Johnson or Jill Stein in 2016, 47% said they're voting for Joe Biden and 20% for Donald Trump.

Based on surveys of 359 likely voters conducted Oct. 16-18, Morning Consult found that 53% of those who didn't vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016 said they're backing Biden this year while 21% are supporting Trump.

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins isn't even on the ballot in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, two states where Stein received more votes in 2016 than the margin of victory Trump held over Clinton. Hawkins and Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen haven't raised nearly as much money as their 2016 counterparts.

In southeastern Connecticut, some Green Party supporters are voting for Biden for president but Green Party candidate Cassandra Martineau in the 2nd Congressional District, while some libertarians are moving in the opposite direction of the aforementioned surveys, shifting from a Trump or Clinton vote in 2016 to a vote for Jorgensen this year.

Green Party supporters want more climate action, less reliance on defense spending

Joshua Steele Kelly, former Waterford Town Meeting member and co-chair of the Waterford Green Party, is leaning toward voting for Martineau, citing her support for the Green New Deal and single-payer health care, and Biden.

He voted for Stein for president in 2016, considering "there was really no way Donald Trump was going to win Connecticut." But given his concern this year that Trump and the Republican Party are going to challenge mail-in ballots, he feels an obligation not only to vote for the candidate more likely to win, but also to add to the numbers of people voting in-person for Biden.

Kelly sees the plight of third-party candidates as a vicious cycle: People often don't want to vote for a candidate that doesn't have momentum, but voting for a candidate is how that person builds momentum.

Daryl Finizio, an attorney and former mayor of New London, has signs in his yard for Martineau and Biden. While he said Courtney is "one of the absolute nicest people I've met in politics" and works hard with constituent services, Finizio feels the congressman falls far short on "radically transforming our fossil fuel economy."

Finizio would also like to see the de-escalation of military spending, a larger response to income inequality, and student loan forgiveness.

To the "traditional liberals who scream at third-party voters," he pointed to the long-term effectiveness of Tea Party members primarying Republicans across the country.

While they may have lost in the general election, "they were OK with that because what they were telling the Republican Party is, 'We are not going to walk with you unless you walk our way,' and eventually the party walked their way," Finizio said. "Now, I happen to think it was the wrong direction and a dangerous direction, but the effectiveness of that cannot be ignored."

Ronna Stuller, chairwoman of the New London Green Party, said she's talked to a lot of people who are voting for Biden but are interested in Martineau's run.

She is voting for Green Party candidates at all levels possible: Erycka Ortiz for state representative in the 39th House District, Martineau for U.S. representative and Hawkins for president.

"In the middle of a pandemic, we really need a single-payer health care system, not just improved (Affordable Care Act), and we really need to start thinking about creating a jobs program based on renewable energy," Stuller said. She also wants the local economy to diversify away from reliance on the defense industry.

Stuller noted a minor party must get at least 1% of the vote to get ballot access in the next election, or the party must petition for a line, so she typically votes Green to keep the line open.

Libertarian voters 'simply cannot do the lesser of two evils'

As someone who thinks "that personal choice should be at the forefront of any decision," whether about abortion or gun rights, Travis Robinson of Stonington voted for Johnson in 2016 and is voting for Jorgensen this year.

Jorgensen has no hopes of winning, but based on conversations he's had, Robinson is "almost certain" the party will break 5% this year. That would allow Libertarian candidates to receive public funding in the future, which Robinson, 26, called "a good springboard."

Pew Research found that 4% of adults surveyed Sept. 30 through Oct. 5 said if the election were held today, they would vote for Jorgensen. But a much lower share of Jorgensen voters than Trump or Biden voters said they're extremely motivated to vote.

When people say he's wasting his vote, Robinson said he responds, "The only vote wasted is the one not cast."

Mystic resident Bethany Guthrie said she voted for Trump in 2016, "because I felt like he was the lesser of the two evils that time, and we all see how that turned out." She pointed to actions against LGBTQ people and said this year, she "cannot, in good conscience, vote for someone who sees them as lesser human beings."

"It's been hard for me to live with that vote, because I knew he was terrible, and this time, I simply cannot do the lesser of two evils again," she said.

Guthrie, 47, said she would want Jorgensen to stop the war on drugs and to bring troops home from overseas, and that Second Amendment rights are a big deal to her.

She called herself "the most liberal Republican you've ever met" while fellow Jorgensen voter Jacob Covey, of Gales Ferry, said he leans "more toward the Democratic point of view," but both said they would still vote for Jorgensen even if they lived in a swing state.

"I'm tired of the lesser of two evils argument, I'm tired of kind of feeling like I've been taken advantage of," said Covey, 28. In 2016, he was interested in Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson but voted for Clinton in hopes of keeping Trump out of office.

Covey said he agrees strongly with Biden's social platform but doesn't align with him financially, while he likes what Trump has done for the economy but dislikes his response to the coronavirus pandemic. He said "both candidates are proponents for a larger government," which he doesn't like.

Asked about people who think he's wasting his vote, Covey called that mentality "a version of voter suppression."

Putnam resident Lance Leduc, 36, said he's voting for the Libertarian Party in as many races as he can and not voting in other races, meaning he is only voting for Jorgensen for president and Dan Reale in the 2nd Congressional District.

"Every four years, it feels like 51% of the country gets to tell the other 49% how to live," Leduc said. He added, "It's big government versus us, and they have us fighting over which rights we get to have and which we don't, based on who wins the race."

e.moser@theday.com

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