Campaigning and debating have already begun for the next election, and over the next 18 months, countless pundits and high-paid television “strategists” will put their fingers to the wind and predict all the possible factors that could swing the ’08 election one way or another. We’ll be told that the enduring disaster in Iraq and high gas prices will probably help Democrats. A new terrorist attack, meanwhile, could throw the election to the Republicans, because the public trusts the GOP on security, since they so successfully caught Osama bin Laden. Or something.

The deciding factor, however, could have very little to do with either candidate or even with external political conditions, but be catalyzed by a pugnacious third-party candidacy. Two of the last four presidential elections had a third-party contender decisively catapult one candidate to the White House, with Ross Perot capturing almost 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 election, which essentially handed the presidency to Bill Clinton. Similarly, in the 2000 election, Green Party nominee Ralph Nader took enough votes away from Al Gore in Florida to give the election – sans popular vote – to George W. Bush.

Although it’s early, there have already been rumblings of two major independent candidacies. The first comes from the current moderate Republican mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, rumored to be allocating a billion dollars of his personal fortune to a self-financed electoral bid as an independent candidate. That sum alone should allow Bloomberg to mount a formidable quest for the nation’s top job. Talks of anti-war Republican Senator Chuck Hagel joining Bloomberg’s ticket as a running mate add fuel to the fire. This means that should Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton be their parties’ respective nominees and should Bloomberg run, there will be three New York centrists vying for the White House – a poetically poignant kick in the balls to those who complain that both political parties are essentially the same.

The other potential election-changing third-party campaign involves the nascent online operation dubbed Unity08. The premise behind Unity08 stems from the belief that there is too much bickering in Washington and the optimal means for mitigation is to have an electoral ticket consisting of both a Republican and a Democrat. Unity08 will have an online “convention” in which party members will choose to nominate a bipartisan ticket and presumably convince those politicians to actually go out and campaign together. This nonsensical proposal ignores the ideological underpinnings of both parties and forsakes any sense of principles or policy prescriptions in favor of an absurd adulation of bipartisanship. The commitment to vote for a ticket – before having a clue who the candidates are – reflects a bizarre presupposition that the greatest woe facing society is a lack of political cooperation. The war in Iraq? Forget it. The rising deficit? Doesn’t matter. Healthcare costs spiraling out of control? Who cares…? I just want everyone to get along!

None of this is to mock third-party candidates. Voices of dissent and diverse opinions should be embraced, not belittled. But the fact that our electoral system lacks a run-off election when one candidate does not receive a majority is outdated, and frankly, undemocratic.

Now my acrimony towards the plurality voting systems doesn’t hinge on any partisan premise. I don’t want another Republican president and I tend to believe that were an independent candidacy to offset the election, it would in all probability help the Democrats, with a Bloomberg/Hagel ticket vacuuming centrist votes from a Republican White House bid. With that said, our plurality voting system is an endemically bad idea.

We should copy the French method of voting. I know this likely won’t appeal to the Larry the Cable Guy-watching, gasoline-chugging, sister-fucking portion of the American populace who hate France more than the devil and gay people combined. France’s run-off system is quite clearly a good idea, and we shouldn’t let those surrender monkeys hog democracy all for themselves. Implementing such a policy is a great first step in election reform and should be embraced. Now onto the Electoral College…