Young America 18 to 29 Now Speaks UP

In 2020, 13 young adults from around the country came together to document their lives during a historic moment. These are our stories.


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Radio Rookies

Voting Third Party: It’s Political and Personal


Kaleigh Cunningham

Missoula, MT


Young voters vote third party more than any other age group. Kaleigh Cunningham wants people to understand they aren't just trying to shake up the system — a lot of thought goes into their vote.

Montana has many Independent voters and issues like personal freedoms and Patriotism are important to them.
Photo by Michael Williamson/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

Growing up, my parents didn’t vote. All I knew was that there were Republicans and Democrats. My first memory of being politically aware was when I was 10 years old. It was during the Bush/Kerry presidential election and I found out that the vice president had a lesbian daughter but didn’t support gay marriage. I told all of my friends it was wrong to be so hypocritical. When I think about it, that was the beginning of me questioning the role of government in people’s lives.

I grew up as an only child in rural Pennsylvania with a single mom battling addiction, while my dad tried to raise me over the phone from 2,000 miles away. He sent child support each month but it went straight to my mom’s drinking funds. We only ate when food stamps were distributed, the roof over my head was a part of Section 8, and school lunches were my only guaranteed meal. But I never thought about who was behind these programs until my junior year of high school when my friend Amy told me to check out the Libertarian Party website. Reading their party platform, my main reaction was just “Wow, this makes sense.” I already agreed with their stance on social issues, such as criminal justice reform and immigration. I began to understand that capitalism isn’t evil and that my ability to exit poverty was tied directly to the ability to work.

I started to realize my life as a child had been dictated by our local and federal government. They give you just enough to stay alive and if you get a job and earn too much money, disability goes away and rent increases. My dad’s girlfriend Laynie and I spoke recently about my childhood and my politics. “I know you feel like the Democratic Party has kept your mother where she’s at. And the Republican Party is for the rich people, which wasn’t something any of us ever had. So with those two options, I can see where you would go Libertarian. You were looking for something that would help people, not just keep them — in your opinion — where they’re at.”

My mom told me when she finally won her disability case that she couldn’t get a job if she wanted to keep those benefits. And what my mom had heard from her friends about libertarianism was what most people are often told: we’re greedy capitalists who don’t want to support the least vulnerable. I asked my mom what she thought when she heard that from her friend and she told me it scared her that someone might take away her benefits. But I would never advocate for something I thought would make my mom’s life more difficult.

It’s hard to explain to my mom how libertarianism works and why I think it could make life better, even for the most vulnerable. I do think limiting government programs would create more opportunities for people to live more fulfilling lives. I wanted that for me and my mom as well.

Today, I am registered as an independent. I make my own decisions on who to vote for and that usually means voting third party. This year, my dad worries that the stakes are too high, even though he voted third party in 2016. “I wish there was someone else to vote for, I really do. But in this particular election, there is no way I can vote third party.” But I don’t feel that I have to choose between the “lesser of two evils.”

My friend Kyle Mack is an independent who also tends to vote third party, “I think there’s often this view of independents as they’re kind of just like lazy voters that just haven’t put in the time to figure out what team their on, so they’re kind of wishy washy with their vote. No. I have a very specific political philosophy and I need someone to inspire me to actually go out and support them.”

You may be thinking that we’re just rebellious and trying to shake up the system, not thinking about the possible consequences, but a lot of thought goes into our vote. More and more young voters are choosing not to register with either major party. We want a new set of ideas to vote for — because what we have now, clearly isn’t working.

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