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Is third-party voting in this election a wasted vote?

By Alex Friedman

Section: Features

October 28, 2016

This election has two of the least-liked major-party candidates of any election in modern history. One is known to be a racist, bigoted, misogynistic, two-faced, ignorant, unintelligent, dangerous, dictatorial demagogue. The other is seen as a lying, shady, robotic, Wall Street shill who has been in politics for far too long. It is no wonder that there has been major talk about third-party candidates. It is also no wonder that folks our age have been especially glassy-eyed about them.

For many, this is their first election, and they don’t want to have their first vote go to who they see as the lesser of two evils. They want to vote for someone good, not just less bad.

Let’s talk about that. In our country, we use a system sometimes called “first past the post” or “winner takes all.” What this means is that whoever gets more votes than anyone else, even if they don’t win a majority of voters, wins all the power. This can be obfuscated by districts and electoral colleges (which are important!), but the general rule is as follows.

This is a system that is only stable when there are two major parties, and it always trends toward two major parties. Even if it starts out with five parties and the first representative is elected by 29 percent of the voters, those voters who voted for the fourth and fifth place candidates will eventually move toward a more popular candidate. This occurs partially so they can be on a winning team, partially because those losing candidates eventually run out of money and willpower and mostly to vote against candidates they hate by voting for candidates they can tolerate.

Recognize that last one? Negative voting—-that is, voting to keep someone out of office rather than putting someone in—comes standard with our voting system. No wonder there are large groups of unhappy voters. They are the ones who would have voted for the other three, smaller candidates in our model earlier. They are left without someone with whom they fully agree and thus become negative voters.

That being said, it is still useless, wasteful and irresponsible to vote for a third party. The system I described may be flawed, but it is still the system that we have. Third parties aren’t fighting big-monied, entrenched, highfalutin’ bureaucrats who just want to maintain the status quo; they’re fighting math. And math always wins. So long as we have this voting system (and it is likely that we always will) we will always default to two parties.

A far better approach for folks who feel disaffected is to use their vote and their speech to try to change those parties.

Parties want to stay in power, and one way for them to do that is to cater to the needs of large constituencies. You want a government that caters to your needs? Make your vote indispensable. If young people were to vote in large numbers, rather than the pitiful turnout rate they have now (especially during midterms and local elections), they would become a force to be reckoned with in the party.

If folks don’t vote, or vote for a different party, they aren’t counted within that party’s coalition and their voices won’t be heard. Why do you think long-time Independent Bernie Sanders ran as a Democrat? He couldn’t have possibly thought, especially at first, that he had a chance of winning the nomination.

His goal was to be a major player in the crafting of the party platform, which is now more liberal than it has ever been. He successfully appealed to an underserved populace from within a major party. This is how work gets done.

All of this is without speaking about the spoiler effect, the privilege inherent in voting for a third party in this election, the lesser of two evils still being less evil, the actual third-party candidates being incompetent and unserious and any number of other arguments that folks thinking about voting for a third party have heard before and are tired of hearing.

The point is, no matter which argument you find persuasive, the result is the same: Voting for a third party is a useless endeavor and a waste of a vote.

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