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In 2016, Donald Trump won the presidency by 36 electoral votes, but in 15 states -- where 157 electoral votes were at stake -- neither he nor Hillary Clinton won by a majority. Trump won 110 electoral votes in nine states where he received a plurality, and Hillary Clinton picked up 47 electoral votes in six states where she came up short of a majority. In almost every case, the vote total of third-party candidates made the difference.
Heading into the final week of the 2020 campaign, the most important names on the ballot may not be Donald Trump and Joe Biden but rather three third-party candidates: Howie Hawkins, Jo Jorgensen and Kayne West. Hawkins (pictured above) is running as the nominee for the Green Party, Jorgensen the Libertarian Party and West an independent. These candidates likely have the power to sway who is sworn in as president next January. 

That was the story in 2016. Dr. Jill Stein, then the Green Party’s nominee, and Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee, each played a key role in taking the majority away from Trump or Clinton. Johnson received almost 4.5 million votes, amounting to 3.3% of the total electorate. This impact made the difference between Trump and Clinton specifically in 13 states. In fact, Trump won six states by a plurality where Johnson’s votes made the difference. In Stein’s case, she received almost 1.5 million votes nationwide, or just over 1%.

Three states which Trump won by a plurality had voted for the Democrat nominee for decades: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. As history showed, these three states made the difference in the election in 2016. Collectively, these three states account for 46 electoral votes, and in each one, the third party could have swayed the outcome. 

In Michigan, Trump won the 16 electoral votes by just over 10,700 votes out of almost 5 million votes cast. Johnson received over 170,000 votes, equating to 3.5% of votes casts; Stein received over 51,00 votes, just over 1% of the state’s total vote. 
Out of almost 6 million votes cast in Pennsylvania, Trump won the state’s 20 electoral votes with just over 48% of the vote — a 44,292 margin, giving him a whopping .7% margin of victory. Johnson, though, received almost 3% of the vote with 146,715 votes, and Stein took almost 1% by garnering just shy of 50,000 votes. Trump won Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes by 22,748 votes, which amounted to a .77% margin of victory. Johnson took over 3.5% of the vote with over 106,000 votes, and Stein herself could have made the difference by taking over 1% of the vote with just over 31,000 votes. 
This theory is not exclusive to battleground states. Trump won reliably red Utah by a plurality, receiving just over 45% of the vote. Third party candidate Evan McMullin came in a strong third place with over 21% of the vote. In Arizona, Trump won the state with 1,252,401 votes to Clinton’s 1,161,1676, a difference of 91,234 votes which ended up amounting to a three-point spread: 48% to 45%. If it were not for the third-party candidates' cumulative 158,121 votes, it’s very possible that Trump would have lost that state. Gary Johnson received 106,327 votes, Jill Stein received 34,345, and independent Evan McMullin received 17,449.
The third-party candidates in 2020 are less well known than those in 2016, with the exception of Kayne West, but they have a higher potential to make a big impact. First off, for “Never Trump” Republicans, a Libertarian candidate provides an outlet to exercise their civic duty while preserving their ideological concerns by not voting for a Democrat. For many, as much as they might not like Trump, voting for a Democrat is a bridge too far. Similarly, for those on the left, the Green Party candidate allows those who have issues with Biden a path to vote consistent with their left-leaning ideology, as opposed to sitting out the election. While many pundits find Kayne West’s bid to be quixotic, even if he draws a few thousand votes in a key state, it may be enough to impact the election. 
The power of every single vote is real. Just a few thousand votes cast for any one of these third-party candidates could very well determine who is standing with their hand on the Bible on Jan. 21, 2021. Every vote matters.

Sean Spicer is host of “Spicer & Co.” weekdays on Newsmax, president of RigWil LLC consulting firm, and adviser to Republican candidates. The former White House press secretary has been a House of Representatives communicator, National Republican Congressional Committee strategist, assistant U.S. trade representative and Republican National Committee communications director.

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