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Why I Will Throw Away My Vote

Why I Will Throw Away My Vote
On Tuesday, I will walk into my voting booth and color in the oval next to a third-party candidate for president. Most people say I'll throw away my vote. And when it comes to picking the next president, that's true. The person I will vote for will not win. The person I will vote for shouldn't even be president (it's disappointing that a more credible third-party alternative didn't emerge this year). But I will still cast that vote as a protest.

Republicans tell me voting for a third-party candidate means I'm voting for Hillary Clinton. Democrats tell me voting for a third-party candidate means I'm voting for Donald Trump. I guess that means I get to vote twice (though I won't actually try to vote twice or else I'll get arrested like a Trump supporter in Iowa). Both sides are wrong in their claim I'm voting for the other person. If everyone voted third-party, neither Trump nor Clinton would win because they would have no votes. Winning is still simple math of garnering more votes.

For most of the country, voting for a third-party candidate will not be a more wasted ballot than voting for Trump or Clinton. When I vote in Missouri on Tuesday, I'd be throwing away my presidential vote even if I vote for Clinton or Trump. The race isn't competitive. Trump will win, likely by a 'yuge' margin.

As Al Gore learned, we're not really voting in a national presidential race. We're voting for who will win the electors in our state. The presidential election is really 50 separate elections. The four states that polls suggest are most likely (by far) to tip the overall result are Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Michigan. The next four states that could decide the race are Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Colorado. The other 42 states are highly unlikely to decide the presidency, especially as most are solidly in the Trump or Clinton camp. Voting for Clinton or Trump in those 42 states is to essentially throw away your vote.

So, does it matter who we vote for - or even if we vote?

I think it does. If we don't vote, politicians don't care that much about us. Voter turnout is already really low and it doesn’t seem to shame politicians, so why would you sitting on a couch bother them? And don’t write in a name unless you’ve checked your state laws to make sure it’ll count. Some states don’t allow write-in votes, and in most states a write-in candidate needs to file some paperwork.

If you want to make sure the major parties don’t dismiss you as lazy or indifferent - as they will if you don’t bother to vote - then vote for a third-party candidate on the ballot. The main three options this year are Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, Green Party nominee Jill Stein, and independent candidate Evan McMullin.

In most modern presidential elections, all third-party candidates combined receive less than two percent of the presidential votes. In only three elections over the last 40 years has that third-party amount topped four percent and the most recent occurred 20 years ago with Ross Perot’s second run. If total third-party votes top ten percent, it’ll tell both major parties that many Americans took the time to vote just to say ‘no’ to both of them. If a third-party candidate wins a state for the first time since 1968 (as McMullin might do in Utah), it'll send a strong message.

Unfortunately, as the race tightened over the past week, it means fewer people will decide to make a third-party protest even in the 42 states where that vote won't actually decide the presidency. I'm afraid both candidates will do well and the race will be so close that the losing party won't learn any lessons from this year. And we really need somebody to learn from the mistakes of 2016! Our two major parties each gave us their least-liked nominee in polling history. Both candidates would normally (and rightly) lose in a landslide.

I reject both candidates for poor records on defending human life (from war to abortion to capital punishment and more). I reject both candidates for unethical behavior leading to multiple scandals. I reject both candidates for representing the problem of our politics being controlled by moneyed interests and a privileged class. I'm not saying they're equally bad (I lay out more critiques about both candidates in my book on faith and politics in 2016). But I cannot in good faith embrace either option.

If you vote for Clinton in a red state or Trump in a blue state, you are essentially throwing your vote away as it won't help pick the next president. Even if you vote for the winner in your state, if they win by a blowout your vote had virtually no impact. But voting for a third-party candidate can actually send a message. If 2016 proves anything, it shows our two-party system is broken. We need reform. We need more options. We need better politics. So I will vote for all of that.

This year's election already seems trashed, so I will "throw away" my vote and instead select an alternative political system. It may be a throw-away vote when it comes to picking the next president, but it could have long-term value. If a third-party candidate garners at least five percent of the national presidential popular vote, that qualifies their party for matching federal money in the next presidential election. That's literally worth tens of millions of dollars. In many states, an even lower percentage (like two percent in Missouri) means the party will automatically make the ballot for the next four years, thereby saving time and money otherwise spent on ballot access. One election's trash could be another election's treasure.

I will "throw away my vote" on Tuesday and vote for a third-party candidate. I invite you to join me. 

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