education philosopher

On NOT Throwing Away My Vote

Posted in political philosophy by KevinCK on March 22, 2010

I am going to take a little excursion from the world of education to discuss a political issue I feel strongly about: why I vote libertarian and do not see this as “throwing away my vote.”

If you didn’t donate all you could, if you didn’t volunteer for the Republican party or its candidates, if you didn’t get your friends out to vote – the blood for this is on your hands.

This was on an acquaintance’s blog and is typical of arguments that we third party voters hear quite often. The argument can be generalized thus:

If x and y are political candidates and you voted for z, you (in effect) are helping the front-running candidate win and are, indirectly, responsible for that candidate winning.

To make matters worse, the libertarian party (who often “takes” votes from the republican party more than the democratic party, for its Reagan-esque  belief in small government) is often accused of tacitly helping democrats win office. This is similar to those who vote with the green or socialist party being accused of tacitly helping republicans win seats (because green and socialist candidates often ‘take’ votes from disaffected democrats more than disaffected republicans).

So, am I throwing my vote away by voting for the libertarian party (who, as much as I would like otherwise, is almost always the losing horse)? Am I to blame for handing the democrats victories by ‘taking’ my vote away from the republican candidate?

I confess that, try as I might, I don’t see the logic in this charge. The above argument assumes that the republican candidate is somehow a better representative of my small-government beliefs than the democratic candidate is. In my early days, I must admit to having this idea: I always looked on republicans more favorably than democrats and even though they were the “lesser of two evils” they were always the lesser evil.
Then George W. Bush happened.

By that point, I had already let go of most of the illusion that republicans could represent my small-government beliefs. But the USA PATRIOT act, two wars and the spending to go with them, the move to create a new amendment denying gays the right to marry in any state, huge deficit spending, and the first round of economic bailouts, obliterated any last hope I had that republicans were somehow closer to my small-government values than their democrat opposition. And the failure of the republicans to push fiscal conservative Ron Paul to win even one state primary cemented it.

So,  here is the fallacy: accusations that libertarians should vote republican to prevent democrats from winning office assumes what is, to me, the incorrect idea that republicans are any closer to small government principles than democrats. I’m sure it is true in theory, but it is not in practice. So, why should I vote for one party over the other even though both are equidistant from my political wordview?!

Now, let me defend why voting libertarian is the only way to avoid throwing away my vote. Yes, I am quite aware that libertarians do not tend to win state or federal elections. But here is the thing: voting is not the same as betting on a horse-race. We are not out to predict the winner and place bets accordingly; we are there to choose the politician we think best represents us. If I vote libertarian, I will likely lose the chance to “pick the winner.” (But I don’t gamble, so that wasn’t my objective.) But if I pick republican or democratic candidates, I lose just as much because I picked a candidate whom I do not want to attain office. If I’d have voted for John McCain, it would have been the same to me as if I’d voted for Barrack Obama: I’d have elected a candidate I don’t want.

But, I would have picked the winning horse (and I can just as easily go to the horse racing track if that was my agenda)!

So, if I am likely going to lose by voting libertarian, republican, or democrat, I might as well get something out of my vote: I can at least send a message to the vote counters and to the parties that one more person didn’t vote for republicans or democrats.  I can at least use my vote to try and increase the chances that, in the future, libertarians will win office; the more votes they get today increases their visibility and viability in future elections.

The fact is, if I vote for a republican defensively (to avoid a democrat win), the republicans will consider this a sign that I like their candidates, the democrats will take it as a sign that they should be more like republicans, and the libertarians will take it as a sign that yet one more person does not agree with their message.

Now, that would be throwing away my vote.


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