WASHINGTON, October 26, 2016 — Is a vote for Evan McMullin a wasted vote? If Jill Stein tickles your political fancy, are you an idiot for giving her your vote? Is a vote for Gary Johnson really just a vote for Hillary Clinton?
Panicked Donald Trump supporters are likely to tell you that if you love liberty and America, you’re somewhere between deluded and treasonous if you vote for McMullin or Johnson. Only Trump can keep Clinton and her corrupt coterie out of the White House and her ithyphallic husband from soiling the Lincoln Bedroom linens.
Clinton supporters are increasingly confident of victory and have lowered their tone a bit, but they still want you to know that a vote for Stein or writing in Bernie Sanders only plays into Trump’s tiny but crotch-grabbing hands.
The Trump and Clinton campaigns and their most ardent supporters are united on this: A third-party vote is a wasted vote, a copout, an act of false virtue, and an endorsement of evil.
If the two grubbiest candidates in modern electoral history and their partisans agree on this, the odds are good that they’re lying.
What exactly is a wasted vote? We might say it’s a vote cast that has no impact on an election’s outcome. A vote cast for Trump in New Mexico or for Clinton in Mississippi is almost certainly wasted by that definition.
If you won’t vote for Clinton in Illinois, vote for whomever you please; no one else has any chance at all of winning Illinois’s electoral votes, so a vote for McMullin is as useless as a vote for Trump.
Because Clinton’s margin is expected to be so large in California, your vote for her there will make no difference, either. If you vote for Stein or Sanders in protest, Clinton will still win the state’s electors, so vote for Clinton, Trump, Sanders, or just burn it. It won’t matter at all.
In a sense, every vote in a state in which we expect a lopsided result is a wasted vote. No single vote will matter, nor will ten thousand, so the only thing that gives your vote any significance at all is that it reflects your conscience. Only a vote cast for a candidate you hate will be a truly wasted vote. It will serve only to expand that candidate’s bragging rights – a truly colossal waste of your vote.
In closer states, the calculation changes: Your vote might actually make a difference. A vote for Clinton might give the state to Clinton, a vote for Trump, to Trump. A vote for a third-party candidate won’t put that candidate in the White House, but it might give the more odious of your two major-party choices the advantage. Do you really want to do that?
You might. Only you can say. But your vote isn’t wasted; it makes a difference.
If you’re usually a Republican voter in a state like Texas, and if you really can’t stand Trump, a write-in vote for McMullin might throw the state to Clinton. Texas is a toss-up this year. If four years of Clinton in the White House is a price you’re willing to pay to send the GOP a message, that would do it in a way that a vote for Trump never would. Your vote wouldn’t get the candidate you want in the White House, but it wouldn’t be wasted.
A Democratic Sanders supporter in North Carolina might feel the same way. The DNC is already planning to reform its system of super delegates. A strategic vote for Sanders might serve as a hard slap to the side of the head to party leadership. Again, depending on your own priorities, it wouldn’t be a wasted vote.
In fact, the only person who can truly decide whether a third-party vote is wasted is the voter. Parties learn from losing that they have to change; they lesson they take from winning is to keep doing what they’re doing. You decided whether you like what they’re doing and vote accordingly.
In solidly blue and red states, every vote is wasted that is cast for a candidate you dislike out of fear. In tighter states, every vote matters, so votes are only wasted when they produce results you really can’t abide. In either case, a vote you cast out of hope and conscience rather than from fear and loathing isn’t wasted. Not at all.
Clinton is strongly favored to win in November. Her electoral lead is large. That means that even in swing states, you can cast a vote for a third-party without having any impact on the election results. That mitigates even more strongly for casting a vote that won’t leave you wanting to strip the skin from your voting finger.
There are no wasted votes when people vote their conscience. A vote for someone or something is a positive act; a vote against isn’t a vote for something different, but a vote for more of the same. If Clinton and Trump don’t appeal to you, don’t let their partisans stampede you into voting for the lesser of two evils. That only makes you complicit in evil.
Look at the other candidates, see whether you can support one of them, then vote for something. It is only by voting and standing for something that American voters can ever claim that their democracy is truly theirs.