What is a vote?
Almost every time I make a pro-Gary Johnson comment on Facebook, I get something from conservatives to the effect that a vote for Gary would be a wasted vote (Or that it would be a vote for Obama.) This strikes me as utterly nonsensical. How could a vote that is quite clearly marked as for “Gary Johnson” somehow be construed as being for “Barack Obama”? And how, in a political system supposedly based on people choosing to elect those officials that best match their views, can a vote be wasted?
Indeed, there is a way in which a vote can be wasted, but not for the reasons that these folks are thinking of.
In every election, there are a number of “strategic voters”. These are folks who aren’t voting for the candidate that is most like them, but the one who they think will win. They’re gamblers who don’t want to lose, “losing” being defined as “that other guy winning.”
But, because they aren’t voting for who really represents them, the candidate who is the closest to who they are, they are truly throwing away their vote. A vote for any candidate who is not the most ideal in an election is a wasted vote, because you’re wasting the chance to stand up for your principles and what you really want.
Of course, how most opponents to third party campaigns label a wasted vote is “a vote for a guy who will never win.” But let’s unpack that. They’re saying that a vote for a loser is wasted. Okay, so let’s apply that to all of the 50 separate elections that occur on Tuesday for the presidency. That’s because our presidential election is not fought on the national stage, truly, but instead in every state, who send their electoral delegates to the Electoral College. That means you would have to tally the losers and winners for every one of these 50 elections. It sounds hard…but it really isn’t. They do it every year, and create handy little maps to look at. Here’s one from RealClearPolitics:
All those states that are red and blue are ones that are more or less for a candidate already. The dark blue are definitely for Obama, the dark red are definitely for Romney, and the lighter they get the closer they get to being a toss-up, but still for one candidate or the other.
Now ignore all of them. Focus just on the tossups. That would be Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. These are the “battleground” states, where the race is close, and votes do have an effect. But in every other state, it is pretty much guaranteed to go one way or the other. The massive concentration of liberals in the cities on the coast in California and New York mean that conservative votes inland are more or less ignored. The opposite occurs for any liberals who live in Texas—I mean Austin—who are swamped by the conservative vote in the rest of the state.
So why vote for Obama in Texas, or Romney in New York? They’re going to lose anyways, so it would be a wasted vote. Of course, supporters of both campaigns don’t want to hear that, because it’s true. They don’t want to think that the vote for their candidate would be just a waste as the vote for a third party candidate. That’s just degrading. That’s like a headline from The Onion.
But it gets worse than that for these guys. That’s because a vote for one of the two major campaigns in these states is actually worth less than a vote for a third-party candidate, and is thus more wasted (under their logic, not mine.) That’s because they don’t have to deal with absurd electoral requirements that necessitate obtaining a certain percentage of the vote in one election, so that they can forgo the ridiculous petitioning requirements for the next. Petitioning requirements that do nothing but serve to keep them off the ballots.
So therefore, if you live in a state that isn’t a battleground, you shouldn’t bother voting for either Obama or Romney. Either they’re going to very clearly win the state, or very clearly lose it. Spend your vote, therefore, on a third party candidate who better represents your views, and help him (or her) get over the roadblocks Republicans and Democrats put ahead of them.
As for saying that your vote, if not for Romney, is for Obama, that depends on whether or not you were ever going to vote for Romney. If not, then it’s a nonsensical, rubbish argument. In fact, it is always a nonsensical, rubbish argument. Your vote does not belong to Romney, or to Obama, or to any other candidate.
Your vote is your own. It is your freedom of choice. It is both simple and powerful. And that’s why we have a democracy. So don’t waste it on somebody you don’t like. Give to the one who you think it deserves it most.