Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Truth about the "Wasted" Vote

Have you ever voted for a candidate who wasn't your top choice simply because you didn't want to "waste your vote" on someone who couldn't get elected? I have. I didn't feel good about it, and the "other guy" won anyway. I was scared the opposition was going to win (and they did), but I didn't want to be guilty of putting the "enemy" in office. I voted to win even though a 3rd party candidate who truly represented my views was on the ballot.

In the next election cycle I did the same thing. I voted for a major party candidate I didn't really like, but this time he won! It was a hollow victory. The elected official enacted legislation I was totally against. How could I complain? I voted for him. I would have paid more attention if the "enemy" had been in office, but the party sympathetic to my views snuck in legislation under my radar while someone "friendly" was in office. Even when I won I lost. I got so fed up I dropped out of the political process for a couple of election cycles about 20 years ago. When I started voting again, I started voting on principle. Here's why.

I believe a lot of Americans are like me. They want to care, but they feel disenfranchised due to experiences like mine. Part of the problem is the utterly illogical “conventional wisdom” about wasting your vote. This little aphorism says it all:
Voting just to beat the other guy,
Is a vote that tells a lie!
Not only did I believe the wasted vote lie, I was deceived into telling a lie when I voted for candidates that didn’t represent my views.

Here's how voting to win backfires. Many libertarian minded folks vote Republican. What does the Republican Party do to reward them? They make policies to win over moderate liberals. Similarly, many people who resonate with the Green Party vote Democrat. So, the Democrats ignore them and make policies to win over moderate conservatives. Either way, we voters don't get what we truly want, the two party system remains entrenched, and WE THE PEOPLE continue to have lousy choices at the ballot box.

The two party system uses fear tactics about the “other side” to maintain their respective power bases. If you vote for the popular candidate in either of the two main parties out of fear of losing, the optimal strategy for your party then becomes one of IGNORING you completely. Since your vote is already in hand, party leaders can concentrate on moving the platform AWAY from your positions in order to court votes from people who totally disagree with you. This is the "big tent" at work. It removes all accountability from party leadership and disrupts the free market of ideas in the political process.
Politicians don't need your approval,
so long as they have your vote!
Voting is like spending money in the marketplace of ideas. It is the currency of your political stewardship. If millions of people keep buying something they don't like, it misleads manufacturers into making more bad product. It is simple supply and demand. The self-correcting process in the free market of ideas breaks down when demand is not accurately measured at the ballot box. If you "lie" about what you want by voting for someone who doesn't represent your views or to keep the "enemy" out of office, the free market information of your vote is lost. Alternatively, if you vote for what you really want, that information becomes part of the economy of ideas, and builds demand for candidates that will represent your views.

Can we really expect our politicians to honestly represent us if we aren't honest with our vote? If you want more honesty in politics, start by being honest with your vote. Your one vote is impotent in turning the results of a national election, but it represents your approval of some set of principles. Voting for what you disapprove to avoid something worse isn't winning. In fact, it is worse than losing because you are indicating support for principles with which you disagree. Not only do you waste your vote, you desecrate it.

Voting conveys information about what you believe. Concern with winning or maintaining power over standing on principle results in compromise by those in office and by those electing them. Using your vote to support the candidate whose principles match yours most closely, particularly if this is a 3rd party or "long shot" candidate, SENDS A MESSAGE to the leaders in the two main parties.

I don't want to waste my vote, so I vote on principle. Real winning does not come by winning elections. Real winning comes from upholding the principles in which you believe. If I must apologize for the candidate I vote for, or his record, to justify my positive vote, then I have used the ballot box to tell a lie.

Our republican form of government, a representative democracy, means the elected officials we elevate to high office are morally accountable to the platforms and policies they pledged to represent. By voting to win rather than voting on principle we are destroying our republican form of government. But, if you vote on principle, your vote is NEVER wasted. Get over the fear of losing. Vote for what you believe.