The Myth of the Wasted Vote
With just over two weeks remaining before the election on November 8th I’m not sure who I will check the box for on my ballot. I received my ballot weeks ago and I will be voting by mail. In past elections my ballot would have been filled out and mailed in as soon as it was legal to do so, but not this year.
I’ve been told by friends and strangers alike that if I don’t vote for one of the two major party candidates I will have wasted my vote. A vote for anyone but Trump or Clinton is, in their estimation, a de facto vote for one or the other. Clinton supporters tell me a third-party vote is a vote for Trump. Trump supporters tell me a third-party vote is a vote for Clinton. So what is an undecided voter who believes with all heart, mind, and soul that the two candidates presented by the major parties aren’t even fit to oversee an HOA, supposed to do?
That’s when I stumbled on this thoughtful post on Medium.com.
The author is D.M. Andre and the title is The Power of the Wasted Vote. Andre leads with a quote by Eugene V. Debs, a union leader and presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America “I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it, than vote for what I don’t want and get it.” I don’t care if the man was a communist, truer words can’t be spoken.
Andre goes on: “A common theme during election cycles is the idea that people who do not vote for one of the major party candidates are wasting their vote. This idea is passed around so frequently and causally that it is likely that many of the people proposing it never really stopped to think about it. Unfortunately, those accused of wasting their vote often mount a meek defense, acknowledging that they may indeed be wasting their vote, but it’s okay because they’re voting their conscience. Aside from the condescension inherent in telling another their vote is wasted, this logic lacks a basic understanding of what voting means. Voting is more than a simple act of math; voting is people actively taking responsibility for choosing their leaders and representatives. Therefore, you do not vote for who you think will win, you vote for who you think should win. The reality is the “wasted” vote has value, it wields power; it is intrinsically the same as the vote cast for the winner.”
The behavior of major party leaders, candidates, and their followers toward 3rd parties strikes me as one of fear and a scarcity mentality. They would have us believe that any party but the (R)s or the (D)s are nothing but spoilers, have no chance of ever winning, and are a distraction from the “real” candidates. That’s only true if the voters buy into it and for the better part of a century or more the voters have.
America’s first citizens were cautioned by their first president, George Washington, to be wary of the two-party system of government. He said, “There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”
John Adams was even more direct. “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”
But here we are with a two-party system and the vast majority of those two-party supporters telling those of us who won’t fall in line, we’re wasting our votes. Back to Andre’s article.
“The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb waste in the following way:to use or expend carelessly, extravagantly or to no purpose; to expend on an unappreciative recipient; to fail to make full or good use of; or to deliberately dispose of something. There is a suggestion implicit in these definitions that whatever is being wasted has value. After all, can one really waste something that has no value to begin with? As such, the trope “your candidate cannot win; therefore, your vote is wasted” is a non-sequitor. It assumes that there is only value in the votes cast for the winner. While many individuals thoughtlessly pass on this logic, the true purveyors of this logic are shrewd individuals. Telling people that they are wasting their vote is a fear tactic. And since many people are more motivated to avoid failure than they are motivated to achieve success it is a sound tactic. Regardless of the motivation, this logic is dangerous. Feeling powerless and being motivated by fear are traits more commonly associated with totalitarian regimes, not democracies.”
I’ll give Andre a bit of a pass here regarding the “democracies” line. A pure democracy is in fact mob rule, where the majority decides everything and minorities have no say or power. A constitutional representative republic protects the minority from the majority and seeks to give equal voice to all through representation. Still Andre makes a solid case that every vote has value regardless for whom it’s cast. This isn’t a binary election. To suggest such is to promote a false dilemma.
Andre: “The presidential election is more than an either/or proposition. Certainly, third-party candidates face an uphill battle before they will be seated in the oval office. However, that does not mean that votes for those candidates are wasted votes; every vote has the power to influence. Third-party candidates challenge the dual party system and add alternate viewpoints that can lead to a more robust national discussion. Democratic and Republican candidates routinely co-opt issues that third-party candidates lobby. People don’t need to justify their votes, regardless of their choice. Every vote cast has the power to change the direction of the national conversation; some just have a more direct impact than others.”
Don’t use bully tactics by beating up anyone who says they can’t vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Win them over with the merits of your candidate. And if you can’t do that, maybe you need to rethink where your vote is going.
You can view D.M. Andre’s entire article HERE