Just Saying Yes: Notes from a Conscientious Voter

Let me be clear, every four years, the bullies come out. Make no mistake, they’ve been coming out for twenty years, in my case. These bullies say the same things in response to my choosing to vote for third-party candidates during presidential elections: “You’re throwing away your vote.” “That’s a fringe group.” “They don’t have a chance of winning.” “Third-party candidates aren’t viable.” “There’s no choice.” “You have no choice but to vote for the lesser of two evils.” “You’ll be responsible for such and such candidate getting elected.” “Get him in and then we’ll put his feet to the fire!” And so the bullying goes. I’ve said a lot in response over the past twenty years, and I’ve found myself saying the same things this time around: I explain some of the ways in which so-called viability is produced. I share the importance of enabling a third-party to receive five percent of the popular vote so that they are eligible for massive amounts of federal funding in the next election. I explain the dangers of believing in binaries. I touch on how the so-called lesser of two evils argument is a philosophical quagmire.  Sometimes, I direct them to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, a book detailing many ways that citizens of this country have resisted tyranny in some of its many forms. I tell them that the two major parties lock out third-party candidates from the debates, which, besides making a mockery of democracy, further hampers the visibility of the locked-out candidates. I explain to them how the Electoral College works, and how, unless they are voting in a so-called swing state, they need not fear voting for a third-party candidate. I share that once the major party candidate is in office most people will not only not put his feet to the fire, they aren’t even likely to hold his feet to a feather. I explain to them that the major parties aren’t entitled to my support, that they must earn my vote. I explain to them that a vote, whether enthusiastic or with reservations, for a major party registers as the same thing to the candidate who receives it, viz., as a mandate. Voting for third-party candidates, however, can result not only in a third-party candidate winning (not an impossibility), but may also result in the so-called major party winner of an election receiving less than fifty percent of the popular vote, making that candidate less likely to believe that they have a public mandate. I explain to them what any toddler understands: You put enough drops in the bucket and the bucket will fill up.

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7 thoughts on “Just Saying Yes: Notes from a Conscientious Voter

  1. John, thanks for these thoughts. Up here in canada, federally and provincially, many people vote for third and fourth (and fifth…) parties, so much so that this is normal, and the two-party dominance of the u.s. strikes most as peculiar and regimented. Good luck exercising your franchise; it’s yours to do with as you think right.

    • Thanks, Jeff. And, your thoughts remind me that the term “third-party,” which is used to signal something other than the two party oligarchy here, is definitely a misnomer, utterly reductive, and an unfortunate lumping together of what is actually a vital diversity.

    • My hope (dream?) is that as the GOP continues becoming a disenfranchised regional party (which does seem to be happening, as they cling to the votes of only rural and wealthy older whites), the United States will transform into a more representative form of democracy, such as a parliamentary system.

      I’m of course not holding my breath, but that’s what I want to see happen.

    • Likewise, Ravi. The historical importance of so-called third parties is often ignored and I’m glad you offered some of the many examples of their impact on policy-making. (It’s one of the few things I learned in high school that is still worth knowing about.) I especially liked the following sections from your piece:

      Voting for a third party is the way I choose to voice my dissent. It’s a vote toward realignment, a recalibration, of our political system. The dominant parties are stricken with tunnel vision; their economic promises are distracting us from other critically important issues (many of which contribute to the long-term health of the economy). To vote for a third party is to help place neglected issues back on the table, make them relevant again: poverty, education, climate change, clean energy, corporate welfare, drone warfare, gun control, capital punishment, labor rights, consumer protection, to name a few.

      [....]

      Still, for all our seeming helplessness, we ultimately hold the greatest trump card of all: our vote. Politicians need to be reminded that a vote is something earned: not something that can be taken for granted, and certainly not something that can be bought. As long as we continue to settle for the “least worst” option (vote defensively instead of offensively), those in power will continue to take advantage of the very people they were elected to represent. Settling isn’t a way forward. It only leads to more of the same. And how much worse does it have to get, how much more deception and greed, until we draw the line, until we say enough is enough?

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