Monday, June 11, 2007

Don't Waste Your Vote

We often hear it said: "Do not waste your vote." We may even say it ourselves, or allow the fear of "wasting" a vote to influence our decision in the booth.

(A similar posting appeared at Redstate at some point, but I can't see my older posts there any more to link to it)

The election process is about more than just who wins. Sure, the winner is important, but there are other factors that have an impact on the behavior of government. For the sake of discussion, let's assume that one of the two major parties, or one of the two main contenders in a primary, will win the election. Why vote for someone else?

A vote is a statement of your general favor for a given candidate. But it's a winner-take-all proposition; you don't get to divide it among three candidates you like. You don't get to supply context or a commentary describing your true opinion or otherwise add nuance; you just get to make your pick. Regardless of your reservations or misgivings over your choice, your vote shows your full endorsement, without reservation, to the candidate you select.

And the candidate or party who gets your vote will use that endorsement once elected, to claim to have your support as part of a "mandate". Though you only voted the way you did to keep from supporting the greater of two evils, you thrown the entire weight of your tiny fraction of national sovereignty behind the lesser of two evils. Is that really what you want, to support evil?

Think about the numbers for a second. Suppose there are three candidates in a race for office. For weeks, polls have been showing that two of them have roughly equal support, 47% for one, 45% for the other, with no votes for the third and the rest undecided. Unless one of the two main candidates is photographed posing lewdly with woodland creatures, that's probably how the election will turn out.

And on election day, you vote for the lesser of two evils, with the results:

Very Evil Party: 2,000,452
Fairly Evil Party: 2,010,398
Benign Party: 0

Which vote are you? Just part of the fairly evil mandate. But now consider the results when you vote your mind:

Very Evil Party: 2,000,452
Fairly Evil Party: 2,010,397
Benign Party: 1

Rather than being 0.00005% of a mandate for something you only barely support, you are 100% of the support for something in which you mostly or even fully believe. Similarly, if the benign party has 99 other votes, you are 1% of its support, rather than being an insignificant portion for something you don't really like.

Voting for a third party or write-in candidate sends the signal that A) you care enough to vote and B) neither of the two major party clowns was good enough for you. To the extent that your vote matters at all, you have used it to tell the major parties that if their policies were more like the one for whom you voted, they might get your vote.

A vote for a third party encourages that party, and also the other minor parties. They see the number of people who voted for them, and know where their support is. This is especially notable in primary contests for President, in which the results of early primaries are said to give momentum to the leading candidates. They need not even win, only give a "strong showing" to encourage attention, donations, and votes in later primaries. People want to pick the winner, after all.

A vote for a third party or minor candidate lends them authority when they speak out. A press release from a party that got .01% of the vote is treated differently from a party that got 1.01%. If a party gets even 2% of the vote, they start to look mainstream. After all, getting 2% might be enough to alter the balance of power between the two major parties.

But, it might be argued, doesn't that split the support for one of the major parties, causing the Most Evil Party to win instead of the Not Quite So Evil Party? Possibly, and that is part of the choice. Unless your tiny party is at one extreme of the spectrum occupied by the two majors, support for it will come proportionately from both of them.

Again, most people want to vote for a winner. To vote for a third party you have to get past that sense of wanting to be on the winning side and remember to vote your own mind. In the end, what difference does it make who voted for the winner? It only allows you to say that your views on who should win are among the most popular faction. But are they your views, or those of the influence peddlers, media, and rest of the crowd? If you only vote for the candidate you think is going to win, you have effectively allowed someone else to vote for you.

Voting for a third party encourages those who don't want to "waste" their votes that it's not such a waste to actually cast those votes according to their respective opinion. Voting is a herd phenomenon. When others see your party's vote total rising from past elections, they'll be more likely to vote that way themselves.

So unless you examine all the choices in front of you and determine that one of the major parties is running the candidate that best describes your point of view, voting for one of them is a bigger waste than voting for a third party or write-in. You won't waste your vote, in any case, but you will have wasted an opportunity to use your piece of sovereignty in the only way that really matters.

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1 comment:

KnightErrant said...

The practice of voting for the "least worst" (rather than the "most best") creates the situation where, even if your guy wins, you are mostly disappointed. This is equally true across the political spectrum. I don't remember the last time the person I voted for governor of California was one of the major party candidates. I feel good about that.

The "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" tells the story of a planet of humans that consistently elects lizards to govern them. This is not because they want to be ruled by lizards; they are just all afraid that if they do not vote for their lizard, the other guy's lizard will be elected.

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