Wasting Your Vote

“I don’t really like either of the candidates this year.”
“Are you gonna vote?”
“Yeah. I’ll probably just pick the lesser of two evils.”
“You know, you could vote third-party. You don’t have to just decide between Democrat and Republican.”
“Well I’m not going to waste my vote.”

This is a conversation I’ve had many times – in different permutations – throughout my life. It of course involves an upcoming U.S. presidential election, where (shockingly) neither the Democrat nor the Republican candidate are all that appealing (are they ever?). Yet it’s been beaten into us that although there are literally dozens of candidates running, if we don’t vote for one of the big two, our vote is null, wasted, and meaningless.

Why is this?

Let’s look at how an election in a constitutional republic – such as ours – works: multiple candidates run for public office. Every competent citizen over the age of 18 without a bunch of felonies has the opportunity to select their preferred candidate, i.e. cast their vote. These votes are tabulated, and whichever candidate garners the most is the winner and takes public office.* (*Sort of. In the U.S., it’s not a straight up direct popular vote for presidential office; we employ the “electoral college,” a concept that many citizens sort of – but very few completely – understand. It basically attempts to give a little more power to the individual states, adding up the total vote of each state’s populous, then awarding a pre-determined amount of delegates (based on population) to whichever candidate gets the most votes from that state’s citizens. Or something. See? I have no idea how it actually works. But for the most part, whichever candidate gets the most votes nationally usually wins.)

Boring shit aside, for some reason the Democratic and Republican parties seized the lion’s share of American political power before any of us were born, and it’s just kind of stayed that way. Since 1853, when Franklin Pierce was elected as a Democrat, the office of the president has been in a constant stranglehold by the donkeys and elephants. Yep, presidents 14 through 44 were all a member of one of the big two parties. It’s all we know. (Interesting side note: Abe Lincoln, the guy who freed the slaves, was a Republican. Good lord, how things have changed.)

As continuity breeds continuity, this stranglehold has only gotten tighter, to the point where the American people can’t seem to fathom a life without either a Democrat or Republican president. It’s so ingrained in our minds that the idea of voting for a different party, a “third party” as they’re condescendingly referred to, seems like a complete waste of time. They won’t win, no matter their ideas or values or political acumen, so we won’t vote for them. Because nobody likes standing in a polling line just to throw away their vote, just as nobody likes to side with a loser.

The odd thing is, “we the people” couldn’t be unhappier about the vice grip the big two parties have on the presidency. A Gallup poll from July 2012 revealed that 69% of Americans were dissatisfied with the way “things were going” in the U.S. And that’s an improvement – it was the first time since 2009 it was below 70%. Both Democrats and Republicans registered satisfaction ratings below 50% in the poll, with the GOP turning in a truly ungodly rating of 10%. We don’t really like any of these guys; we’re sick of them, and fed up with the fact that they overpromise, under deliver, and generally suck at their jobs. It requires no logical leap to peg the American people ready for a change. Yet we refuse to vote for one.

We bitch. We moan. We listen to radio talk shows that rail against the system, and other radio talk shows that rail against those radio talk shows. Some of us chose not to vote, and consider ourselves “apathetic” to the whole notion of politics. The bastards have finally driven us away; it’s their fault. We hate them, and all we want is a change – an end to the bickering and in-fighting and heel dragging, and at least some sliver of honesty, compromise, and progress. We pray (or, for Democrats, hope really hard) that something, somehow, can inject some life and sunshine into this godforsaken clusterfuck in Washington.

Well you know what? We can. The clichéd American people. Last time I checked, we run shit around here. Our votes hold the power. It’s our house, dammit, and these Washingtonian assholes work for us. We pay their ridiculous (guaranteed for life) salaries. And also, the only way in hell it’s going to happen is if we make it happen. Because they have no reason to change.

This isn’t some hippie utopian idealism, I promise; it’s simple logic. We don’t vote for third parties – and thus for REAL change – because we’re worried nobody else will, and our vote will be rendered useless. How can we not realize that we are the everyone else? If you chose to vote for the “lesser of two evils” because of this logic, you are the very person that’s rendering every potential outside-the-box vote useless. You are the person to whom you’re reacting. The only reason we don’t vote for third parties is because we’re worried people won’t vote for third parties. Um, what?

It may sound like I’m advocating voting third party. That’s because I am. If you never vote Democrat or Republican again, and stop caring about what the other lemmings do, you’ll probably feel awesome. No matter which empty suit is up on that podium fucking up Washington, you’ll know it won’t be your fault. And if it is – if we somehow miraculously band together and overthrow the vice-grip the Dueling Legions of Esteemed Jackasses has had on the presidency since eighteen fifty fucking three – at least it’ll be a new kind of fucked up. At least we won’t be perpetuating the definition of insanity.

So which third party candidate should you vote for? I don’t care. It honestly doesn’t matter, at least in the next lifetime or so. I’m not trying to tell you voting for a third party candidate will get them elected in the near future; it won’t. But if you do, you’re making an investment in our future. Think of it as a gift to your children (or somebody else’s kids, if the idea of procreating scares you as much as it does me), a good-faith effort to make things better for future generations. At this point, you’re not voting for the candidate nearly as much as you are the idea – the idea that we don’t have to just take what we’re given, to accept the lesser of two evils. The insane notion that the citizens of the reigning greatest country in the world actually have a say in our elections.

I suppose it’s possible that meaningful and positive change happens through one – or both – of the ruling parties. It could happen, hypothetically, without the need for a third party. Conceivably, a unique and truly charismatic candidate could emerge, galvanizing the country and exciting the people with promises of real and possible hope, change, and general rejection of the status quo. The people would elect him, rejoice in the event, and prosperity and rationalization of the political community would surely follow.

But we’ve seen that movie before, haven’t we?

The single biggest argument for the rogue (third party) vote – the nail in the coffin, at least in my mind – is the 2008 election and subsequent presidency of Barack Obama. It goes to prove without a shadow of a doubt, that if we stick to political parties 1A and 1B, we will always and forever continue to be fucked. This has absolutely nothing to do with his politics, worldviews, or agenda; I for one am proud to call Barack Obama my president, and was happy to see him elected. This is not even about his competence in the Oval Office; for what it’s worth, I find his intentions and ideas admirable, his character great, and his intelligence superb. Honestly, this isn’t about Barack Obama; it’s about everything else. It’s about the machine that consumed him.

I was a senior in college in 2008. I was finishing a poly sci minor, taking at least three politic-heavy classes, and it seemed like everyone had something to say on the presidential election, in and out of the classroom. And when the results came in on election night? My god, what an atmosphere – a wide and magnificent explosion of optimism I had never before seen in my life. The group I ran with wasn’t even particularly pro-Obama, but even they couldn’t help but be awestruck and a little tingly. The excitement was palpable. My roommate, girlfriend, and I shared a bottle of champagne in my apartment to ring in the momentous occasion, and two thirds of us didn’t even vote for the guy. It just somehow seemed that things were gonna be alright.

And it wasn’t just us, the college kids on college campuses. From what I could tell, the whole damn country – from housewives to businessmen to construction workers, everyone but the most inbred, tobacco-spitting hick – was fired up to some degree. Even if we didn’t believe in his political platform, we believed in what he stood for. We believed in hope, change, and positivity.

Nearly four years later, we still believe in those things, but just slightly more than we believe in the Powerball or early retirement to a yacht in the Carribean. We believe because we want to, because we need to, and because no matter what happens, so many of us are idealists at our cores. But we don’t believe it’s in front of us, waiting to be snatched and cherished and drank up in all its delicious glory, like we did on November 4, 2008. The bad guys, once again, have won. Nearly four years into the Obama presidency, there has been progress, but it’s been slow at best and disheartening at worst. Again, I’m not putting this solely on the president – I have no idea how much, if any, is his fault. But the parties are more divided than ever, compromise is nonexistent, and pandering, partisanship, grandstanding, and lies reign supreme. The Grand Canyon lies in the aisle of congress, and the gap Obama promised to bridge has only grown wider. These people – these Republicans and Democrats – are not working for us. They are working for themselves. We are losing.

If Barack Obama couldn’t change the conventional culture of Washington, with the way the country was lined up behind him after the inauguration, ready to go to Pluto and back, I’m fairly certain nobody can. The current culture cannot be changed; it needs to be blown up. So let’s get out the dynamite, motherfuckers.

I don’t think things are bad overall in our country. I would want to live nowhere else, and I love America as much as – if not more than – each and every Billy Ray with a confederate flag on the back of his truck. The truly wonderful part about the U.S. of A. is that living here still kicks ass no matter how screwed things are on Capitol Hill. The economy is still in the shitter, the national debt is growing by eighteen kazillion dollars every millisecond, we’re still involved in too many foreign conflicts (each also costing a few kazillion each day), and party hacks on each side can’t even eat a damn chicken sandwich without making it a divisive issue, and another way to show you that they’re right and you’re wrong. Fuck. But all this, and I still wake up in a beautiful place every morning, have the opportunity to go to work in my chosen profession during the day, and cap things off with a delicious scotch or DQ Blizzard at night. How is that previous sentence NOT an embodiment of the American dream? Nobody starts out on a level playing field in life, but in this country, you can run or climb or dance in as fast as – and in in whatever direction – you want. And I don’t care how liberal, conservative, fascist, or anarchist you consider yourself – that’s pretty damn cool.

This is the section where I’d rail against the way political polarization has driven a wedge between Americans. But there’s not enough room here; that’s another blog, or book, or collection of books. To summarize and spare you a lot of words, my thesis on the matter is this: the “picking sides” mentality mandated by the two-party system is counterproductive to rational discourse and progress, and it preys on basic, deeply ingrained human emotions. It is the exact opposite of what we should strive for, if we’re at all interested in social progress. I’m not much into picking sides, and I have no honest idea who’s “right” across the political spectrum. But I’m pretty sure that if you’re either a die-hard Democrat or Republican, you’re wrong.

In the end, I guess don’t mean to tell you what to do with your vote in the upcoming election, or any election. All I ask is that you don’t approach the polling booth with the intention of voting for who you see as the lesser of two evils. Not just in the presidential race, but all of them, because they are all vitally important. Spend some time researching the possibilities, and then decide what’s really best for the country. Prepare with your head, and vote with your heart. Voting unconventionally isn’t wasting your vote, but giving up and supporting the status quo is.


1 Comment

  1. […] – For the love of god, stop pretending there are only two candidates. I’ve already gone on about this here. […]

Leave a Reply

Sam Neumann | sam@samneumann.com | Boulder, CO