It seems germane to discuss this now, with the 2012 General Elections looming only a few short weeks ahead.
I’d like to write a little bit about elections, my experience with third party politics, and why I won’t be voting for incumbent President Barack Obama in this November.
Flashback to The 2008 Elections
Before I talk about other things, I think I should first talk about 2008: the year I awoke, politically.
In 2008, I voted for independent candidate Ralph Nader, a write-in for Indiana residents, even. To be completely honest, I would have voted for him in 2000 also, had I known more about him. I have clashed with some of my friends over this issue, friends that think he handed Bush the election (technically, Gore did when he conceded to Bush). This is a rather complex topic that I would be happy to discuss another time.
I bring this up because, while exploring Ralph Nader as a candidate, it immersed me fully into the world of the election process, political parties, and it pulled back the curtain on how the presidential sausage is made. In campaigning for Ralph Nader, I met with some Election Science students, who taught me about Instant Runoff Voting (among other alternatives); I got to meet Ralph Nader himself (he signed a quotation on the back of a book by David Cay Johnston) while seeing him speak in Columbus, Ohio on my birthday; I felt my perspectives on my candidates, and the issues their platforms address, broaden as I realized how deficient and manufactured the two dominant parties were; and I learned how the “debates” are run by a corporation chaired by former DNC and RNC officials, who create an environment hostile to candidates from any other parties.
And there was a slogan I learned, while reading about the two-party duopoly of the electorate: “When you vote for the lesser of two evils, you still end up with evil.”
Why We Have a Duopoly and Why It’s Bad
A monopoly is when a single entity exercises an influence on a market that unfairly stifles competition and prevents Adam Smith’s invisible hand from doing its magic. A duopoly is the same, but with two parties colluding. The American election system is run by a duopoly that is comprised of the Republican and Democratic parties.
One reason that this duopoly persists is because our current election system, called “first past the post”, discourages affirmative voting (voting for what you believe in) and instead encourages fear-based voting (voting because you’re more scared of the alternative).
CGP Grey did an excellent video about “First past the post voting”, check it out:
There is a whole field of study called “election science” which explores different methods of polling a population for political purposes. Earlier, I mentioned “Instant Runoff Voting”. This is an excellent voting solution that is not substantially more confusing than traditional voting.
While I recommend watching this video (below), also by CGP Grey, here is an explanation of IRV in a nutshell, first from the perspective of what you would do, as a voter, and then what the election commission will do when they process the votes:
- You go to a polling location, just like normal
- You enter a voting booth
- On your ballot, either paper or electronic, you’ll see a listing of all candidates for each race.
- Each candidate has a box next to their name, you rank them in order of preference (1 = first choice, etc.). You are free to rank some or all of them. Do this for each race.
- Submit your ballot just like normal. Done!
Once the election is over, the election commission will collect all ballots and run them through a computer program that will determine the winner, through this method:
- Do any candidates have a majority of the vote? If so, stop; you have a winner!
- Otherwise, eliminate the candidate with the least number of votes.
- Anyone who had that candidate as their top choice, move down to their next choice and retabulate votes. (Go back to #1 with the new totals)
The main advantage to this system is that it eliminates the so-called “Spoiler Effect” (what Nader was blamed for, unfairly, in 2000). We can all freely vote for third-party candidates without any fear of “the other guy” getting voted in because we didn’t follow marching orders from the party we have a love/hate relationship with. You can vote for every third party candidate under the sun and then make your “safety candidate” be your last one, and there will be absolutely no negative consequence to this.
Here is CGP Grey’s video about the “Alternative Vote” (aka “Instant Runoff Voting”).
Wasting Your Vote
This might be the one thing I hear the most often, when I tell people that I vote 3rd party.
“If you aren’t voting for one of the two parties, you’re wasting your vote.”
This statement does not compute. It seems built on the following logic:
- Premise 1: A vote “counts” only if it is cast for a candidate with a chance of winning.
- Premise 2: If a vote doesn’t “count”, then the vote is “wasted”.
Hypothetically speaking, in an election where the candidate for one of the two dominant parties is unlikely to win, is a vote for that candidate a wasted vote? Why is it so important that the vote be cast for a viable candidate? I am 32 now, and have had the fortune to vote in 3 Presidential elections so far. My candidate has yet to win. 2 of the 3 times, my candidate conceded despite there being evidence of an unsavory election.
Thinking only in terms of the next 4 years is incredibly myopic. It also makes you an easy voter to manipulate. If I am a Democratic candidate (or collectively, the Democratic party), I only need to be less conservative than the Republican candidate (who keep moving further to the right) and I know I will be the default choice for at least 1/3 of America. If I am that candidate, and you vote for me because I’m not a Republican, then I don’t owe you anything. You’re giving your vote away because you’re afraid; they’re pulling a good-cop / bad-cop routine on you, and you just confessed to the good cop.
The only wasted vote is the vote that is not cast at all. I disagree with “protest votes” or with people who just try to be muckrakers. Do your damned research. Learn about the candidates that are running — if you are voting third party, check with their campaign so that you know whether or not they are a write-in. Chances are, there is at least one candidate that you actually agree with. Hell, maybe it’s one of the major candidates (and if so, that is TOTALLY FINE. Really!). Just vote affirmatively, don’t let yourself be terrorized.
I regretted my votes from 2000 and 2004, when I voted for the Democratic candidate. I did not regret my write-in vote in 2008.
I live in New York state. Barring some bizarre election behavior, the state will turn a ripe shade of blue when the polls close. I could pretty much vote for anyone I wanted, except Romney, and it will likely not affect the outcome of the election. Voting third party here is “semi-safe” (compared to swing state voting, where politically-terrorized people would call it “risky”).
But I think even in battleground states like Ohio, Florida, and others, even in these should we vote affirmatively rather than fearfully.
I have seen a lot of propaganda by both sides, warning us against the reality of what could be, should their opponent be elected. The Bush years sucked. The market crashed in ’08. Obama may or may not have revived the economy (I’m not smart enough in economics to say if this was the case, though I think the arguments in favor of this do make sense).
But like I said before, the problem with voting for the lesser of two evils is that you still get evil. Voting for the major parties is like trying to date someone who really doesn’t care about you, and I’m tired of sitting around waiting for scraps of political affection. My candidate is going to earn my vote. Obama has done things that I have a serious problem with, and the campaigns have not brought this up at all.
I don’t want this to turn into an anti-Obama screed. There are plenty out there. Personally, I dislike his ties to the finance sector (check out his campaign donors). He hasn’t taken a strong enough stance against the NDAA “indefinite detention” clause. I dislike the whole “kill list” thing (if the government deems you a terrorist, they can secretly order your assassination). Not to mention that, under his watch, the economic disparity has become even more pronounced. (Read the article on Salon: “The Progressive Case Against Obama“)
I won’t deny that he has done some good things, but I want more out of my candidate — I am a progressive person and I want more out of the person that receives my vote for President. If Romney wins, then there’s three possible outcomes:
- things get better
- things stay the same
- things get worse.
Case #3 is the one everyone worries about. There is a part of me that might secretly hope that having everything fall apart would give us the opportunity to rebuild; stronger, wiser, maybe even more humble. I don’t know if it’s possible for an ennui to be angry, but America is experiencing prolonged angry ennui. Like a half-erect priapism. Finally hitting rock bottom could be the way out.
Recently, Lawrence O’Donnell (MSNBC) had an excellent monologue about why it’s good to vote for third party candidates. I cannot possibly do him justice, so I’ll let him speak for himself, in closing: