I saw this a while back on Facebook, before either candidate had secured their party's nomination. I laughed along and added my own "Like" with the other 50,000+ "Likes" this image had. Since then, I've seen variations of this image crop up here and there, along with a running commentary that always ends up like this:
"I can't believe I have to choose between Trump and Hillary. Guess I'll move to Canada."
As if those are the only two options! As if as an American, you can only vote for one of two people, or one of two parties. As if to say that if you vote for anything else, you're "wasting your vote."
Please: the only way you can waste your vote is by using it to signal to the rest of America that you believe in something that you don’t actually believe in. If you truly believe that either “Nope” or “Noper” is best for America, please vote for them, but if not, vote for someone you believe in. ANYONE you believe in. Write yourself in for all I care. Write in “None of the Above.” Just don't lie to me, your fellow citizen, by saying you want someone to be president when you don't actually want them to be president.
The Lesser of Two Evils
This election is different though, right? I mean, given the two choices, we really have to make sure we elect the lesser of two evils, right?
Oh, wait a second… I think Jefferson just rolled over in his grave.
The idea of voting for the lesser of two evils is fundamentally flawed. Let us count the ways:
The idea of voting for the lesser of two evils is fundamentally flawed. Let us count the ways:
There Are More Than Two Options
Firstly, it assumes that there are only two options – Republicans and Democrats. This just simply isn’t the case. The Libertarian Party’s presumptive nominee is polling higher than ever against the establishment candidates – and that was in the first poll mentioning the Libertarian Party candidate vs the establishment candidates. The Green Party and various Independents have been around for decades and are running for President this year. According to Ballotpedia, there are 1,724 candidates that have filed a Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission as of May 2016. They provide this link to see them all. In 43 states, you even have the option of writing someone in for President on your ballot! Why would you say or think that there are only two options for President of the United States?
Sure, you say, there are technically more options, but practically speaking, only a Republican or Democrat has a chance of winning.
Why is that, exactly? Why can only a Republican or Democrat win when only 26% of voters identify as Republican and 30% identify as Democrats? That’s only 56% of America identifying as these two political parties. You’re telling me that we have to split the American vote 50-50 between two parties that COLLECTIVELY only represent 56% of Americans? Why are the other 44% who identify as Independent or “Other” voting for these two parties?? Probably because they think that there are no other options, and that they have to vote for the lesser of two evils. I just want to shake that 44% and show them how many options there actually are.
Voting For “The Lesser of Two Evils”
Is Actively Choosing Evil
(And It’s Un-American)
(Also I’m going to apologize up front for using the word “evil” a ridiculous amount of times in this section.)
Secondly, the idea of voting for the lesser of two evils assumes that if you vote for a third option, you’re allowing some evil to win… But let’s be clear: voting for a lesser evil is still voting for evil. More clearly stated, if you vote for something you think is the lesser of two evils, you are actively choosing an evil when you could instead choose a “good” that you believe in.
Morally speaking, some of us have this notion that “I just can’t allow this greater evil to win,” so we then choose a different evil. The misconception here is that the moral high ground isn’t found in choosing any degree of evil. The moral high ground is found when you choose a good that you believe in.
From a civic duty perspective, we might think that “I can’t let this person win because it will wreck the country” so we then choose someone who will wreck it less. Our true civic duty is to vote for someone we believe will actually improve the country, not just “wreck it less.”
From a practical standpoint, we might say “There are only two legitimate options, and both are evil, so I have to pick the least bad or the greater bad will win,” but in reality, 44% of us don’t identify with either of the two bad options. We could all come together and write in Morgan Freeman on the ballot, and he could then be President in real life as well as in every movie this century.
And to be clear: I’m not trying to make any declarations about candidate A or B being evil. I’m simply trying to break down the argument that a responsible voter has some kind of moral or civic obligation to use their vote to choose the lesser of two (and only two) perceived evils. Adhering to this idea is un-American on multiple levels: it misrepresents your views; it constrains you to only two options as opposed to unlimited options; it constrains you to vote for perceived evil at every ballot; it perpetuates the idea that you don’t have your own voice, only one of two voices; and it perpetuates two dominant, unrepresentative political parties.
You Will Never Be The Deciding Vote
Thirdly, voting for the lesser of two evils supposes that you actually have a chance to determine the outcome of the election. I hate to break it to you, but you will never be the deciding vote in a presidential election. The odds are astronomical. Even if an election went 149,999,999 votes to 150,000,001 votes, the Electoral College and the House of Representatives would come into play and determine the election.
Does that mean your vote doesn’t count? Of course not. It just means that the function of a vote is not to select a winner. It's something else entirely.
Voting Is About Being Heard
Finally, since the practice of choosing the lesser of two evils perpetuates the idea that your vote is about selecting a winner, it obscures the real power of your vote: the value of your vote is not inherent in its ability to determine the outcome of an election, but in its ability to accurately reflect your unique, individual voice. Voting isn’t about choosing the winner of an election – your vote will never do that. Voting is about self-government. It's about being represented. It's about weighing in with your unique voice on who would be the best Commander in Chief of America. It's about lending your opinions, expertise, experience, and beliefs to the rest of your fellow citizens. It is your opportunity to be counted, to have a voice, to say whatever you want to say about who should administrate the executive branch.
If you don’t vote the way you believe, you will not be truly heard. Your voice will be lost amidst the shouts of perceived popular opinion. You will lend your voice and power to the paltry 26% or 30% that truly support the establishment parties. The establishment parties’ support will be artificially inflated by your voice, because you will be counted as support for them instead of being counted as support for your own ideals. Your ideals will continue to be ignored or trampled on, because there will never be sufficient proof of support for those ideals.
But hey, at least you were heard shouting for the lesser evil, right?
What You Can Do This Election
The only way you can waste your vote is by using it to signal to the rest of America that you believe in something that you don’t actually believe in. If you honestly and truthfully believe that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is the best candidate for president, then please vote for them. If you are in that 44% that don’t identify as a Republican or Democrat, you might wonder what you can do, this election, to keep from wasting your vote.
Firstly, the most developed parties outside of the establishment are Libertarian Party and Green Party. You might be surprised to find yourself closely aligned with one of these two parties without ever knowing it.
Secondly, you can use sites like The Political Compass and I Side With to help you identify your own political values and beliefs, and then match them with the most popular presidential candidates. I’m not suggesting you let some quizzes decide for you, but it’s a start. Go from there and research the political ideas and candidates you come across. This is the presidential election of the United States of America, surely we have an hour or two to spend researching?
Thirdly, if you live in certain states, you can write someone in. It’s not about winning this way. It’s about being represented. It’s about being counted. There’s a pretty hilarious quote from the always colorful Jesse Ventura that applies:
“I have an idea about voting, how about on every ballot we include ‘None of the above.’ People may laugh at that, but what that is, it is a vote of no confidence in your government and I'm willing to bet that in some elections, 'None of the Above' would win. Imagine if you won the election but lost to 'None of the Above'. Wouldn't that make you re-think your positions?”
Again, it’s about being heard. You have more than two options.
My goal has been to convince you that the only wasted vote is one you cast without belief. Voting for the “lesser of two evils” is fundamentally flawed and un-American. The American ideal is that you vote for someone you believe in. The American ideal is to express yourself with your vote. The American ideal is to be represented. If you don’t vote for someone you believe in, you will never truly be represented.
And for the love of liberty, don’t use your only chance to be heard to say something you don’t believe.