Hypothetical discussion between Foo and Bar:
Foo: Who are you voting for?
Bar: I think I’ll vote for Obama.
Foo: Why him? Isn’t he going to destroy the economy?
Bar: Maybe, but I think he’ll do less damage than either McCain or Clinton, and besides, if he does a really awful job in office, maybe he’ll shut up this nonsense about “real change” once and for all — since he obviously won’t really change anything that matters.
Foo: Why don’t you vote for someone else, then? Write in Ron Paul’s name, or whoever the Greenie is this time, or something.
Bar: None of them will win. I don’t want to throw away my vote.
There are only two ways to throw away your vote:
Stay home, don’t vote.
Vote for the Republican nominee or the Democrat nominee when you think he or she would make a terrible president, doesn’t stand for anything you believe in, and will not accomplish much (if any) good.
Option number 1 is pretty easy to understand, but at the same time, I think there are times that’s the appropriate answer. One such case, for instance, is when you simply don’t know enough about the situation to make a smart decision. Don’t vote blind; stay home instead. Of course, you should remember that there are other issues coming up for a vote besides who’ll be the next President, and you might know something about those situations.
Option number 2 might seem a bit counterintuitive. The reason it seems counterintuitive, however, is not that it violates basic principles as we understand them, or otherwise involves any really surprising interactions of facts. Most people just never really think things through, and as a result they never realize the true consequences of their actions unless someone does a really good job of explaining them — of giving people the answer rather than letting people figure the answer out for themselves.
So, here’s how option number 2 works:
A frontrunner doesn’t need your vote if you don’t agree with him or her. Think about it — millions of people vote. In fact, in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections, more than one hundred million votes were counted. In fact, even if you supported either the Republican nominee or the Democrat nominee on matters of principle, you could probably do more good by not voting, if you’re really clever about it and live in a state where it’s already pretty much a given that one side or the other will win (imagine ideas like mutual non-voting pacts, et cetera).
It’s the third-party guy that really needs your votes. Imagine — if a person of principle who matches your ideals, but a candidate from a party other than the Republicans and Democrats, were to capture a whopping 10% of the popular vote, the Republicans and Democrats would sit up and take notice. So would the voters. There are two likely positive effects of this:
Voters would begin to believe that a third-party candidate could win some day. At more local levels than the Presidency (such as the Senate, the State’s Governor, the House, the State’s legislature, et cetera), candidates from other parties actually could win in the very next election cycle, a mere two years away (depending on election schedules).
Of the Republicans and Democrats, the party whose candidate lost would see in this good showing by a third-party candidate a deep well of dissatisfied voters to tap into next time. You’d then likely have an opposition party from among the Republicans and Democrats whose candidate would lean a bit more in the direction of the ideals you hold dear.
There could be some negative effects, too:
Republican and Democrat officials would of course try to alter election regulations to make it more difficult for that to happen again.
You might undermine the candidacy of the “lesser evil”.
Of course, in the first case, you’re not really losing anything — because even more effective a means of keeping a third-party candidate out of office than changing election laws is getting people to refuse to vote for third-party candidates. As such, if you stay away from the third-party candidates because of a fear of changing election laws, not only do the corrupt officials that want to prevent you from voting third-party win, but they win without having to do anything — allowing them to direct more effort toward doing other things you would rather they didn’t do. Might as well make ’em work to make things difficult.
In the second case, think about what you’re saying for a moment. The lesser evil? Really?
Have you read up on the views of each of the two candidates with the Republican and Democrat nominations enough? Have you checked out their voting records in the House, or the Senate, or their policies and vetoes and bill support from time in office as a Governor, or whatever other evidence there may be of their real motivations? When Republicans and Democrats are so obviously similar, and it’s generally expected that 98% of politicians are corrupt right to the core, trying to vote for the “lesser evil” is really nothing better than a crap shoot with loaded dice.
When you vote for lesser evils, all you get is evil — in part because, when you vote for a lesser evil, *you deny your one and only vote to anyone actually *good**.
There is no verifiable lesser evil, because the balance of evils in each case is so confusing and, well, heavy, that there’s no way to come to a reasonable conclusion that one is better or worse than the other. Of course, if you’re a single-issue voter, you can perhaps come to a conclusion that very clearly matches your requirements for a candidate, depending on the issue. If you’re a single-issue voter, though, and you don’t get what you want, you should just stay the hell home and meditate upon your obsessive ignorance for a while rather than voting.
So, yeah — maybe, if you vote for a candidate other than McCain and Obama this November, your vote won’t get anyone elected. That’s not the only benefit your vote can provide, though. There are other effects of your vote than simply choosing a candidate. In fact, as long as we have a de facto two-party system, it doesn’t even have that much of an effect.
If you consider voting for someone who didn’t win to mean you “throw away your vote”, then you have no options at all except to throw away your vote. If you’re just throwing it away anyway, at least make a statement with the act. You could just throw it away on something that feels dirty, like voting for the “lesser evil”, of course — but I choose to “throw away” my vote on something I really believe in. You should do the same.