Don’t waste your vote! That is the advice and criticism people offer when they think one may not vote for their party’s chosen candidate come November. Usually this kind of criticism arises during presidential election cycles but it can also happen during local races. I know Democrats say similar things to Independent and Green Party voters; my observations stem from my experience as a Republican who often supports Libertarian candidates when debating Republican Party demagogues. Often in these exchanges they’ll say things like, ‘Libertarians have some decent ideas’, or, ‘I am libertarian-leaning myself *but* they are just too inflexible and impractical to ever gain more than a 3% following’, or, ‘A vote for a Libertarian is simply a vote for the Democrats’, or, ‘Protest in other ways but DON’T WASTE YOUR VOTE!‘
If you haven’t heard these kinds of comments you haven’t been interested in defending liberty for very long. Welcome to the struggle . . . or else you really need to get out more. 🙂
When I hear one of these criticisms I know the others are there too, just waiting to tumble out, seemingly with the expectation that if said in the right order, or in the proper manner, or with the perfect intonation or passion they are magically transformed into a convincing argument that will cause me to say, “You know, you’re right, I’ve been a fool, now that you put it that way I’ll never waste my vote again. Thank you for your words of great wisdom. You should tell everyone.” If they seem reticent or suspicious I’ll spur them on enthusiastically! (mockingly) I’ll ask, ‘Which Libertarian ideas do you think are decent?’, and, ‘If you are leaning libertarian, what keeps you from falling over?’, or, ‘So you think I’d be more practical if I voted for candidates who represent everything I oppose? Please tell me how you rationalize that.’ Once you ask these people a question or two they think they have you running toward the herd; their ego kicks in and they’re hooked. Have fun with it.
Be sure at some point to ask them to explain what they mean when they say the word ‘vote’. These answers are usually along the lines of, a right, a civic duty, a protection of liberty, etc. Their answers don’t vary much conceptually no matter what words they use to describe them.
Once they have exhausted their dogmatic ammunition it is time to bury their position once and for all. Here is my take on their arguments:
1. You have some decent ideas. Guess what? I didn’t invent them; most limited government ideas stem from the US Constitution. Hand them a copy of the constitution and ask them to point out all the decent ideas and cross out all the ideas they think are impractical or too inflexible. If they think the Constitution is flawed then why not try to fix it rather than just ignore it?
2. I’m libertarian-leaning myself. This is purely an attempt at manipulation by forging a bond of commonality with you that they do not actually value – unless it works. (Has it EVER worked? I doubt it.) Those who says things like this are not interested in anything you have to say. Save your breath and move on. The only interest they have in you is evangelizing their position to you. I don’t feel compelled to give them that opportunity. If they don’t understand the difference between a limited government conservative like Ron Paul and a libertarian like…who? then any discussion with them would be a complete waste of my time.
3. Your ideas are inflexible and impractical? How can one presume to know how practical my choice is when they don’t understand the consequences my vote will have towards my goals? It is a very common misnomer among elitists that if you have different political goals than they do, you are impractical. Their presumption is that your political goals as an individual do not matter. One Denver talk radio GOP dogmatist has distilled this down to the phrase, “Party trumps person”. They are herd animals who cannot grasp any rationale for acting out of unison with their herd. Be it the GOP, the Dems or any of a number of 3rd parties…they really just like the herd atmosphere. In my experience, any conversation with this kind of person must be undertaken for sheer entertainment purposes…like bouncing a ball against a wall. If you intend to knock down the wall you’re wasting your time but if you enjoy the mindlessly repetitive behavior, have at it.
It’s your time; use it as you see fit.
After they have presented their arguments sufficiently I like to start by talking about what a vote is not. First, a vote is not a right. (please see my article: What Right Do I Have? for an elaboration on why voting is NOT an individual right.) Per our Constitution, States elect presidents. How States choose to implement this responsibility is left to them. There is no such thing in the USA as an individual’s right to vote for a President. This is why the notion of a ‘popular vote‘ as reported by the mass media and public schooling victims is nothing more than pandering to the ignorant. If we ever dissolve the United States and re-constitute our geography as a homogenous entity without the notion of States or a Republic, then, a popular vote could be a relevant option for electing federal officials. Under our current Constitution, the notion of a ‘popular vote’ is an irrelevant fantasy,a distraction meant to rile folks who do not understand it such that they waste their political resources and emotional resources tilting at that windmill rather than participating constructively in the political process.
In such a Progressive fantasy, the people in a dozen or so cities would elect our leaders and the rest of the population would have no voice. Popular elections are nothing more than tyranny by the majority. They are fine on a local community basis but when the voters begin to have influence outside the community where they live, democracy becomes a divisive and oppressive force.
Is your vote a civic duty? Maybe; I’m not going there. If it is a civic duty there isn’t any impetus to cast your vote for (or against, as stupid at that is) any particular candidate. This is a moot point with regard to wasting a vote. The alternative would be an Australian-style system where every person must, by law, participate in elections. There are dozens of nations where voting is compulsory and a handful, including Australia, where it is enforced. No voter who understands the power and value of the free market could ever support that kind of system. Since our Constitution leaves the voting process up to the individual states, this couldn’t be done here without first dissolving our nation’s Constitution and starting from scratch.
Getting down to brass tacks: What is your vote? It is information; nothing more. The nature of that information changes depending on what part of the election cycle we’re talking about. Since most people think of their vote in the context of the Presidential election every four years, I’ll start there. If the only time you vote is in state-by-state spectacle every 4 years, the information contained in your vote is the least useful that it can be. This is what leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties want. They use the party tools to encourage voters to participate only in this least effective manner. This consolidates their power over us by turning the information contained in the votes into a tally mark, an increment. This is the basis for the statement from the dogmatic Republican’s perspective that a vote for a Libertarian is a vote for a Democrat. They view votes only as tally marks in a fictitious national election. They disregard any additional, and potentially more valuable, information contained in an individual’s vote.
In the context of the Presidential election, the election process is your State’s mechanism for collecting voter’s information. From the State’s perspective ‘the vote’ is a tool they allow eligible citizens to use to facilitate collecting the information needed for the federal election. Voting not a right; it is a tool that enables your State to participate in its constitutionally defined role in electing our President. What is commonly referred to as the right to vote is really more appropriately called eligibility to use your state’s election process.
Third party voters provide more information in their Presidential vote than does someone who votes against candidates they fear or dislike. No votes are counted as “votes against” anything. Every vote is counted as a vote “For” something or someone. The information in a third party vote is a tally mark. It can only be used to track how many people participate in elections but who have no interest in supporting a winner for the sake of winning. In our current political environment, where the same types (big government, accelerated spending, perpetual war candidates) of people lead both parties, the elections are inevitably close. A shrewd candidate will recognize that attracting just a small number of voters from amongst third party and unaffiliated voters will put them over the top. This is why campaigns tend to pander to centrist voter sentiments rather than attempting to increase participation by apathetic party member voters who are more closely aligned with the traditional party principles. It is simply easier to lure a portion of active voters to their side than it is to mobilize a significant number of disgruntled non-participants. They want tally marks for their candidates and they aren’t picky about where those votes come from. This is why GOP liberals like Mitt Romney, Herman Cain or Rick Perry now seem like reasonable choices as Republican leaders to some voters. The traditional distinctions between liberal and conservative have been blurred to obscurity by the quest for magic margin of the centrist herd.
People who vote Republican out of fear, those who vote against the Democrats but don’t necessarily like the Republicans either, provide the very least information in their vote. They are typically people who do not participate in the party’s candidate selection and vetting process. They rarely attend a GOP activity in their neighborhood. They went to public schools and haven’t read a book in years unless it was religious or pure fluff (novels). They do not practice self-education unless they accidentally learn something from a TV show. They do not know who their county GOP chairperson is. They have never participated in the primary or caucus to help nominate a candidate for their party. They just wait until the general election and vote against Democrats.
Candidates don’t think about these people; they don’t need to. These folks are statistically dependable with no effort or expense on the part of the party or the candidates. Sure, when a candidate is campaigning locally they will offer sound bites meant to reassure these voters that they are in good hands but no effort is expended in getting these folks to become active in the party. Depending on where you live, this type of Republican voter represents a significant portion of registered Republicans. This is the pool we are tapped in our efforts to win the nomination for Ron Paul in 2008 and the results were staggeringly successful beyond my wildest hopes by delegate count. The typical disgruntled, formerly apathetic conservative has been waiting for someone to ask them to dance and Ron Paul was playing their tune. Putting the two together is a bit like convincing fish to swim.
Those voters who provide the most information with their vote are those who participate early and often in local party activity. They attend monthly meetings, help in local fund raising events, know who their precinct chairperson is, know who their county GOP chairperson is and most importantly of all, they participate in the nomination process for Presidential and other candidates. This process is the most important function of a political party and the best reason for registering with any party in the first place. Even people who never intend to cast a vote for a Democrat or a Republican in the general election should be registered with one of these parties so that they can influence the candidate selection process and the adoption of by-laws that govern the process. Sitting on the outside and complaining that people who are participating are not representing your values is ineffective, ego-centric whining. After all, why should Republicans feel obligated to represent you if you don’t show up? If this is your base position, how is that working out for you so far?
Back to wasted votes; how can you waste your vote? I see several obvious ways; I’m sure there are more.
1. By not using it at all. Even this is not a waste is you choose not to vote because you don’t understand the consequences of voting for someone or something.
2. By using it to vote against something. Those who count the votes don’t care how you feel – they only count the tally marks as votes FOR whatever you voted for.
3. By voting in support of someone or something you disagree with. This is a slight variation on voting against something. If you vote for it, you are counted as a supporter. This is why there is so much passionate pressure to vote the party line come November. By playing to your fear they hope to get you to vote “against” the bad guys even though your vote will only be counted as a vote for the other bad guys.
4. By not using it to influence a real outcome such as saying you are a libertarian but not having the sense to participate in the GOP primary to get Ron Paul nominated. That is a real waste of a vote.
Is voting for a third party candidate wasting your vote? I can’t tell.
If you cast your vote in hopes of turning a third party into a viable national party, yes, definitely. You are ignoring reality and wasting your vote on a fantasy.
If you cast your vote because no other candidates represent you then no, your vote isn’t wasted.
If you cast your vote to add your tally mark to the pool so in the next election cycle some major party candidate may attempt to lure you to their side then no, your vote isn’t wasted.
If you register with a third party or remain unaffiliated you are proactively wasting your vote even before you cast it.Tweet
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