Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wasted Vote Syndrome

I just dispatched my ballot back to the registrar – and for longtime readers it will not come as a surprise that I have voted Libertarian.  Over the years as I’ve proudly voted twice for Harry Browne (RIP) once for Michael Badnarik, held my nose voting for Bob Barr and just ticked for Gary Johnson.  While it’s nice to be enthusiastic about the individual carrying the torch, I vote not for the person, but for the party.  Rather old fashioned, and not at all consistent with today’s personality driven campaigns.  Since my candidate (and party) is going to lose, is my vote a waste?
Voting matters.  It makes a statement.  It’s not about whose going to win.  That’s a sporting match.  Voting for a party (or a person) that aligns with your own beliefs cannot be a waste.  There are six candidates who have qualified on the California ballot for President.  Only two of them will have gotten any substantive media analysis and coverage – with the former being pretty superficial.  It begets the ‘which came first – the chicken or the egg’ question:  should candidates get coverage because they’re well known or because they’ve qualified for the ballot and could win and should be known?
A horse race is easier to report on - it’s a nice simple narrative to tell.  Toss in the occasional twist – a John Anderson or a Ross Perot – and that makes for a great human interest element, but it’s always more interesting between the front runners.  With all their money and attention, really, why wouldn’t you vote for one or the other of the big guys?  Elections matter and if you’re going to vote then you should at least do so because it matters to you. 
Picture this:  November 7th, 2012:  One of the corporate-backed parties will have won the billion dollar race, 90% or more of Congress will have retained their seats (even if power shifts in Washington DC that’s the retention rate) and the smaller parties will have collectively garnered 1.5 million or fewer votes.  The political world will be at ease and this is the most likely of scenarios based on history, polls and common sense.
Imagine a slightly different result:  Gary Johnson (the only candidate among the other parties who mathematically could win the Electoral College) wins 10% of the vote, ten times more than what he probably will get.  One of the major party candidates will have won, Congress will have the same retention rate – but the political elite will be agog.  The Libertarian perspective will at least become part of the discussion.  That would be good for finding solutions and good for discourse.  And  it won't happen.
The traditional argument goes something like this:  if all of the people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 hadn't wasted their vote then the U.S. would have had President Gore.  Why isn’t it that if even more had voted for Nadar then the issues that the Greens were passionate about would have become more impactful instead of them disappearing? 
Voting for Mitt Romney or Barak Obama guarantees some level of consistency.  Both have unbalanced budgets, both redistribute wealth, albeit in different ways, and rhetoric is all that differentiates their foreign policy.  Partisan gridlock will remain constant no matter who wins.  Support them if you align with them.  Not voting is the only scenario that qualifies as a wasted vote. 

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