Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Sunday, November 13, 2016
Ain't no party like a third political party
Posted Nov. 7, 2016
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … Americans were in search of a new political party.
And they found one in a fictional and obscure dictatorship featured in the "Star Wars" franchise.
The Adarian party is named after residents of the planet Adari, located on the inner rim territories of the Galactic Empire, a population bounded by a rigid caste system that requires complete obedience to higher caste members — at least according to Wookieepedia, a "Star Wars" fan site.
In Bucks County, 13 voters registered under the Adarian party as of Oct. 31. The most recent — a 61-year-old Bensalem man — joined in April, according to state voting records. The first Adarian registered in Bucks County in 1995.
While Democrats (198,183) and Republicans (188,735) hold the No. 1 and 2 spots on the Bucks County voter registration rolls, more than 74,000 people — roughly 16 percent — belong to one of 102 third parties in the county.
They are political affiliations that range from familiar ones like Libertarian (3,244 members), obscure ones like Ross Perot’s Reform Party (49 members), extinct ones like the Whig Party (4 members) or the flat-out fakes such as the Halloween party (three members) and birthday and cocktail parties — each with one member each.
Even a party named the third party has two Bucks County members, according to state voter rolls.
The attraction to third parties is a reaction to a growing disillusionment and disconnect with a political system dominated by two parties with polarizing ideologies, studies suggest.
Temple University psychologist Frank Farley was surprised to learn that Bucks County had more than 100 third parties on its voter rolls. He theorized it could reflect a desire among voters to rebel against the politics-as-usual mentality, unpalatable political candidates and a political system that they believe has lost touch with average Americans.
“People who would normally just vote the ticket in the two major parties, a significant number have found the ticket unacceptable,” Farley said. “That is probably fueling some kind of resistance. In this particular year, with the high negatives and people are just stressed with decisions, and some are just saying, ‘I’m not going to make a decision between those two.’ Let’s have some fun out of this inevitable disaster.”
Benjamin Pennacchio registered to vote last month, about two weeks after he turned 18. He is the lone Bucks County member of the Workers Party of America.
Why did he choose that party? He didn’t, he said.
The Central Bucks West High School senior let his friends choose for him.
If it was up to him, he wouldn’t have registered. But his friends kept bugging him until he agreed, Pennacchio said. He hasn’t decided if he’ll vote Tuesday, much less for whom. None of the presidential candidates has addressed the only issue that he cares about — protecting the environment.
A growing number of Americans share that feeling, according to the Pew Research Center.
A Pew study released last year found that 39 percent of voters identified as independent rather than with a major political party, according to an analysis of aggregated data from 2014 that showed in 2004 the electorate was nearly evenly divided among the three groups, Pew found.
Voting by the numbers
Number of online applications the Bucks County Board of Elections received on the last day to register to vote Nov. 8.
Number of Bucks County residents who registered or changed their party registration in October 2016.
Number of Bucks County residents who have registered to vote since January 2016.
Source: Bucks County Board of Elections
The rise in independents has been particularly dramatic, Pew found. While voters who identify as independents jumped nine points in a decade, Republican affiliation fell six points and Democratic affiliation remained unchanged, according to the study.
The unaffiliated trend is clearly seen in Bucks County, where 58,385 voters are registered either No Affiliation or No Party, according to state data. Roughly 21 percent of the 16,455 Bucks residents who registered or changed their voter registration in October joined either the independent or no affiliation parties, according to state records.
Others in Bucks County appear to have similar commitment issues: The not sure party has 40 members; the undecided party has 44 members, the N/A 9 members, unaffiliated 8 members, neutral 11 members, unknown 25 members, non-committal 3 members, I don’t know 2 members and no party affiliation 1 member.
The number of repetitive-sounding parties is attributed to a blank space on the county’s voter registration form that allows individuals to check off “other” for political affiliation and write in whatever party they want, according to Deena Dean, director of the Bucks County Board of Elections.
As a result, some affiliations are separated by a single word. Take the “green” party, which has 773 members in Bucks County, while the “green party” has 13. Bucks County has six members of the Communist Party, one member of the Communist Party USA and one member of CPUSA, the acronym for Communist Party USA.
In some cases, parties are separated by only a few misplaced letters. The Independent Party has 8,044 members, while the Independant (sic) Party has 73 members, the Indepent Party two members and the Independence Party 67 members.
For another 38 registered voters, it’s a party of one, Bucks records show.
• A 34-year-old Chalfont man changed his party affiliation to the cocktail party in 2010.
• A 54-year-old Telford man has been registered as a member of the birthday party since 1995.
• A 56-year-old Perkasie man changed his voter registration in January to the wild party.
• A 20-year-old Bensalem man is the lone member of the obscure pirate party founded in 2006 in Sweden. The U.S. party is affiliated with Pirate Parties International and supports civil rights, direct democracy and online privacy.
Former Lower Makefield resident Mark Irvin is the lone member of the Mark is God party. He joined in 1996 when he was 18, according to voter records.
Today Irvin is 38 and lives in New Jersey, where he is also registered to vote, but not with the Mark is God party, according to his father, Tom.
His son’s original political affiliation was the result of a high school voter registration drive, Tom Irvin explained. At the time, Mark wasn’t interested in politics or voting, he said.
Mark Irvin forgot about his registration until years later when he accompanied his father to the polls on election day. He saw he was registered as an MIG. It wasn’t until they returned home that Mark remembered what the acronym stood for, Tom Irvin said.
“High school is still haunting him,” Tom Irvin added.