Don’t Waste Your Vote! (Third Parties Turn the Tables)

Anyone who has ever considered voting for an independent or minor-party candidate has probably been vigorously admonished by his Republican or Democratic friends not to “waste” his or her vote.  Yesterday, the Libertarian ticket turned the tables by sending out an e-mail arguing, in effect, that a vote for John McCain would be wasteful in precisely the same sense.  The e-mail, which came from Bob Barr’s Campaign Manager Russ Verney (former Campaign Manager for Ross Perot), carried this subject heading:  “McCain is guaranteed to lose . . . so what does that mean for America?”  Here’s the rest of the e-mail:

Dear Friend,

It is now clear: John McCain cannot win the election.

There is not one reasonable poll suggesting that he has a chance. While Republicans have long dominated absentee ballot collections and early voting, this year, this is not the case.

So the next question America needs to ask is do we want the socialism and one-party corruption of an Obama administration, or the free-markets, low taxes, small government and more personal freedom of Bob Barr?

The contrast could not be more stark. Monday evening, on The Lehrer News Hour, Bob was clear on the issues. He offered a vision for our nation’s economic future. He contrasted his views with those of his opponents and when it was over, it was clear that only Bob Barr has the courage and guts to take on our national problems and lead us for the next four years.

In the 13 days until the election, it is clear that momentum is gaining for this campaign.

For one, many Republican recognize that John McCain will lose. If they are principled conservatives they are beginning to ask what will become of their party in the future. The moderate to liberal wings are not saddened by a McCain defeat.

If a principled conservative wants to have his or her voice heard in both political parties, they should vote for Bob Barr. A vote for Barr will be counted as a protest against the Bush/McCain big spending policies.

Will you help me get this message out? Millions of Republicans are frustrated by the failures of the McCain campaign. We need to win their votes.

Your gift of just $5 or $10 will help us reach out to like-minded Americans who recognize that the McCain campaign is over and Bob Barr is our only choice to keep Barack Obama out of the White House.  Please CLICK HERE to donate today.


Russell Verney
Campaign Manager
Bob Barr for President

Let me admit right up front that I love this purely as sauce for the gander.  For the last ten years or so, I’ve been bugged by the way the two major parties rig the game against the minor parties and independents, and then use the very fact that the game is rigged as an argument why everyone should support a major-party candidate.  Three cheers for Russ Verney for using the same circular logic in favor of the minor-party candidate this time.

But quite apart from my tactical admiration for the e-mail, it comes at a time when I’ve been in a bit of a quandary about how to cast my own vote.  Voting is easy for those who are genuinely excited and inspired by one of the major-party candidates:  They vote for the ticket they really like, and in doing so they simultaneously (a) act in accordance with their own true values and preferences; (b) communicate those values and preferences to the community as a whole; and (c) act to bring about a practical result that they truly desire.  Integrity, communication, and practicality all coincide.  Easy.

But what should a pro-life, anti-war voter do?  Or for that matter, a voter who would like lower spending but would also like to balance the budget even if that means higher taxes?  These bundles of positions are not on the menu with either major party, which makes it prohibitively difficult for these voters to stick to their principles or to cast a vote that communicates those principles with sufficient clarity, unless they are willing to vote for sure losers running as independents or minor-party candidates — thereby forfeiting any practical relevance.

There are, I think, three approaches.  The first, pulling the lever for the lesser of two major-party evils, is one that I have never liked.  To be completely candid, it makes me feel dirty.  And I strongly dislike the element of public misinformation it involves.  Even if I can assuage my conscience by recalling that I know my vote for Smith was really more of a vote against Jones, my fellow citizens have no way of knowing that.  They may be tempted to think that Smith got some kind of mandate for new programs I abhor.  The controversy over what the 2004 election “meant” illustrates the problem.

I have often opted for a second strategy, namely write-in voting, which we can think of as the strategy that places the highest value on integrity and the lowest value on practical effectiveness.  (I hope George Will, who lives a few blocks south of me, can forgive me for repeatedly trying to send him to Congress.)  This year, I thought I might use the write-in for the first time at the presidential level, but I have learned that in Maryland (as in most states), write-in votes are not counted unless the candidate files a Certificate of Candidacy in advance of the election.  Thus, for example, no matter how many write-in votes Ron Paul gets in Maryland, none of those votes will be counted because Ron Paul refuses to declare himself a candidate.  It is unclear whether write-in votes for Paul will go uncounted in the sense that they are all lumped in together as “other,” or whether they are simply discarded and not reported at all.  Either option seems undemocratic to me, but the latter option is particularly offensive, as it involves literally throwing out votes.  Either way, though, a write-in for Paul will communicate little and achieve even less.  (I have seen one fairly persuasive argument that there is a positive value in forcing the state to physically throw away one’s vote, since that forces the election authorities to recognize their own roles in keeping the game crooked.  I like the echoes of Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden in that suggestion, but I don’t like the idea that it’s impossible for the community to distinguish my vote from those supporting Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader.)

The third approach is to vote for a minor-party alternative who in some way embodies the thing that is most conspicuously missing from the contest between the major-party candidates.  This approach often communicates an underlying political philosophy much more effectively than the others, but of course there are trade-offs.  In some cases, the practical effect of voting for a third-party candidate may be to tilt the election toward one of the two major-party candidates, which is usually exactly what a third-party voter wishes not to do.  By the same token, personal foibles of a third-party candidate may make it a hard vote for the integrity-centric voter.

But what if the outcome of the contest between the major-party candidates is certain?  If “lesser of two evils” voting would result in a vote for a sure loser, then isn’t the communicative function of our pro-life voter’s ballot very nearly its only practical function?  That’s where I am right now.  Reasonable minds apparently differ on whether Senator McCain’s goose is cooked nationally, but I don’t think anyone thinks he has any reasonable prospect of winning in Maryland, New York, or California.  For these voters, at least, Verney’s appeal seems to me to be spot on.  Republicans in these states cannot do anything to elect John McCain, but they can send a message to their party about the way it should regroup in 2009.  Blue-state voters who want smaller government cannot get it by voting for John McCain, but they can at least make their preference for smaller government known by voting for Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party or Bob Barr of the Libertarian Party.  That strikes me as worth doing.


5 Responses to “Don’t Waste Your Vote! (Third Parties Turn the Tables)”

  1. Timothy Peach Says:

    I love it. Classic Granulous. Incredible nuance and complexity in the making of a decision to vote exotically in a state less likely to vote Republican than Venezuela.

    I wonder if your deliberations would be simpler, or more relevant, if you lived on the south side of Mosc…. I mean, Washington DC, instead of the north side, Libertangulous.

  2. Timothy Peach Says:

    Thanks man, that really hit the spot!

  3. [Name Withheld by Request] Says:

    OK. For the first time, I shall post.

    A few points Mark–from a “devout” Libertarian. First, there’s a legitimate fourth alternative–do not vote. In a true Constitutional Republic, controlled by the rule of law, who is President would make virtually no difference. In my humble opinion, that was the point of our Founders setting up a Republic; the same Founders who probably abhorred “democracy” above all other forms of government, as they well knew that it was the one form that would surely destroy itself from within as soon as the voting majority realized it could vote itself whatever benefits it wanted from any minority it chose. We long ago lost sight of that–welcome to Amerika…

    Not voting at all is a legitimate protest. The State, of course, hates it, because they want everyone to be an active participant in the process. If you’re a part of the show, you might legitimately gripe because your candidate didn’t win this time, but you feel good because you exercised your democratic freedom while all around us the system crumbles because WHO is elected now DOES matter. The Constitution, when it is referred to at all, is but some sort of anachronistic, pliable document into which all kinds of actions can either be (a) squeezed in to the existing language (e.g., the infamously distorted “general welfare” provision), or (b) simply taken anyway as though they were actually permitted by the text (e.g., as you know, I have a large copy on my main foyer wall and I’ve been looking in vain for weeks trying to find the language that allows the government to buy banks, insurance companies or mortgages).

    I’m sure the government hopes we eventually get voting right up there near the 100% rate and we move to a complete one party system instead of the quasi-one party system of Republocrats and Demoplicans, but there’s an argument that there’s some good feelings to be earned by the individual in not helping them get there.

    Next–your other proposed options, starting with your first, I cannot choose the lesser of two evils without, by default, still choosing evil, so neither John O’Bama or Barack McCain are viable options for me–and frankly, in the big picture, because of the points raised above and the incredible mess in which we presently find ourselves, I feel sorry for us all regardless of which of the two wins (and I think it will be closer than the media expects, either way). As we’ve discussed many times, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. (But, unfortunately, I think current odds favor more the former, though… :-)

    Your second option–the write-in vote. While it seems as though your research has shown that this may in fact be a “non-vote”, for all intents and purposes, it still has some significant appeal. If it IS counted, it sends a signal that the “major party” candidates aren’t worthwhile for whatever reason(s). But even if it is NOT counted for the individual voted for but IS counted as a “vote thrown away”, it is perhaps a louder protest even than not voting. It shows someone took the time to voice their specific displeasure in the main choices being made available. I expect there will be many write-in votes for Mr. Paul, whether he wants ’em or not and whether they’re counted or not. It would be hard for me to feel my vote was wasted if I voted for him. In the context we find ourselves in, I am not sure I can or do equate “not counted” as “wasted”.

    As for your third choice–voting for a “third” party candidate, while I also think this is a good option (and, if I vote, will be one of my options), I just want to give a little warning. You may not necessarily be getting to the level of “pro-life” you want. Just today, one of our mutual friends pointed out (actually re-pointed out) to me that the Libertarian party platform is certainly not as pro-life as he would like it to be. (It is, at section 1.4, simply: Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.) Thus, while it definitely gets government out of the picture in terms of supporting, encouraging and most importantly, funding all aspects of abortion, it doesn’t make it ILLEGAL, but leaves it in the realm of morality. Our friend certainly doesn’t think that goes far enough. For myriad reasons I have given to him, I do. You, however, may have a position closer to his and, if so (and abortion is your litmus test), Mr. Barr might not be the right vote for you. (Nor will Chuck Baldwin necessarily be, though the Constitution Party’s position might be interpreted as being a little closer.)

    Thus ends my first posting to RM… I wish you the best of luck n your decision next Tuesday–and I wish all of us luck no matter which of the two major party candidates wins. I assure you, we’ll need it!

  4. Mark Grannis Says:

    Thanks for commenting, Ken. I hope you stick around.

    You argument for not voting at all sees my Hank Rearden and raises me a Francisco d’Anconia. I think abstaining can make a statement in a small group, or perhaps if you’re famous enough that people ask you why you’re abstaining. (I trust it would still have been news if Colin Powell had gone on Meet the Press and said, “I can’t vote for either of these two guys.”)

    But if you’re not in that position, it’s just too ambiguous for me. I know it is an article of faith among Libertarians that non-voters are disaffected and are merely responding rationally to the strong similarities between Republicans and Democrats (and their mutual neglect of important philosophical issues in favor of trendy issues du jour). But I think the consensus view among political scientists is that people who don’t vote are generally satisfied with the way things are going. I am not indifferent as to which interpretation is given to my choice on election day, so I always vote.

    I guess I’m pretty focused on the “communicative” function of voting that I discussed above. But then, I blog.

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