There were, in the last election, nearly 8 million people like me, and as the 2020 race heats up, we wait, we watch, we wonder.

When I say like me, I mean the 8 million who did not vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. It was an unprecedented number.

Stuart Rothenberg, columnist for Roll Call, wrote recently that in 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain drew 98.6% of the popular vote between them. Four years later, Obama and Mitt Romney drew 98.3% of the popular vote.

But in 2016, Clinton and Trump together received only 94.3% of the popular vote.

Given that the difference in the 2016 popular vote was less than 3 million, that 8 million could have swung the election. Maybe we did by not voting for either candidate.

The term "independent" doesn't accurately describe us, either; a more precise term would be disaffected, meaning that neither candidate reflected my values.

Rothenberg notes that Libertarian Gary Johnson got most of those 8 million votes in 2016 — almost 4.5 million — and that Green Party nominee Jill Stein got a good bit, too — 1.5 million. But that still leaves 2 million more, like me, unaccounted for, politically homeless.

Rothenberg wrote: "Libertarians and Greens may try to convince you that this reflects growing support for their parties. It doesn't. Their strong showing was due to the unpopularity of the two major party nominees. Remember, Johnson and Stein were also on the ballot four years earlier (2012), and the Libertarian drew under 1.3 million votes and Stein not quite 470,000 votes."

I am enough of a contrarian that 2016 was not the first time I broke from either major party, but there was something different about the last election.

How is it, I wondered, that the process for vetting candidates — a process refined over nearly 230 years and nearly 60 presidential elections — has become so broken that it allowed two such flawed candidates to rise to the top of their respective parties? You may disagree with my use of the word "flawed," but it's my vote, and when I walked into the booth that November I had concluded that not only were they both unfit for office, but that they were both unfit in some of the same ways. Neither candidate, I concluded, believed rules that apply to the rest of us applied to them; both, I concluded, would do whatever it took to win, and both would put their own interests and, if it came down to it, their own political survival ahead of the country.

As to where the breakdown in the process occurred, I can only guess that the amount of money in politics today is part of the explanation. So is the weakness inherent in new media, not to mention weaknesses in the old, although the latter have been with us for all of those 230 years.

Bottom line: I wrote in a name, knowing that it was an exercise in futility but that my conscience and concern for my country wouldn't allow me to do otherwise.

Republicans are presenting Trump as their standard-bearer in 2020, and given that some of the things he has done since taking office confirm earlier doubts about his fitness for office, those 8 million voters — and maybe more — remain in play, scouring the field now to see if Democrats bring forth someone who resonates.

As Rothenberg wrote, " ... if Democrats select a nominee who is again unpalatable to many voters, as Clinton was, that could send anti-Trump Republicans and swing voters back to third parties again in 2020.

"Winning those voters who defected from the two major parties would be an important step for either party."

Don't count on it. The same forces that failed in 2016 are still at work — more so even — on the march to 2020.

Andy Ostmeyer is metro editor for The Joplin Globe.

Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor at the Globe. His email address is aostmeyer@joplinglobe.com.

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