Throw Your Vote Away

by Akim Reinhardt

FissureTo say this has been an interesting presidential election season would be an understatement. Regardless of who is declared president after the polls close three weeks from tomorrow, this is almost certainly a tussle that historians will pick over and analyze for decades to come, if not centuries. They're apt to do that when an election reveals deep fissures in society, as has this one.

But of course there's more to it than that. Donald Trump's candidacy is not just about a political outsider emerging as the champion of ostensible insiders (mostly white males) who have come to see themselves as disenchanted, frustrated outsiders amid long term changes in the national economy, culture, and demography. Among other things, it's also about a startlingly unqualified person taking the reigns of a major party against the wishes of that party's leadership; an unleashing of various bigotries that have forced comfortable Americans to stop pretending racism and sexism aren't real problems; and the dramatic erosion of lines separating entertainment and politics.

Amid this whirlwind of upheaval, Hillary Clinton now seems very likely to win. Our Lady of the Establishment looks ever more presidential, partly in contrast to Trump's glaring ineptitude, but mostly because so many people find The Donald to be utterly contemptible. And a victory which, under more banal circumstances, might have been most noteworthy for the United States electing its first female president nearly a century after the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote, will now largely be seen as a moment when simple sanity held sway over startling lunacy.

Regardless of how high the stakes appear, however, there are still only two good reasons why you should vote for Hillary Clinton:

-You believe she would be a good president
-You don't believe she would be a good president, but you live in a swing state and don't want Donald Trump to become president

For these two reasons, tens of millions of people will vote for Hillary Clinton, and I applaud them. I really do think it's important we avoid the wretched shambles of a Trump presidency.

However, neither of these reasons apply to me or many other millions of voters. When such is the case, we should recognize it and vote accordingly.

First, I live in Maryland. Even before the Trump campaign melted down in light of his 2005 “pussy grabbing” rant going public, Hillary Clinton was already projected to have a more than a 99% chance of winning this state.

In this respect, Maryland is bluer than even California and New York. Only Hawai'i and Washington, D.C. poll higher for Clinton. Thus, I must face reality: my single vote doesn't matter. Regardless of whomever I vote for, Hillary Clinton will win this state. It and more than a dozen other states are locked down for Clinton.

There is a parallel circumstance facing voters in more than a dozen heavily red states such as Oklahoma and Wyoming. Trump is going to capture those electoral votes no matter what you and everyone you know does.

In truth, there are only about a dozen swing states in play this election, and they are home to a minority of American voters. The simple truth is, a great majority of electoral votes are already spoken for, and if you live in a non-competitive state, you should do the math and face facts. Not only does your vote not matter, but you can do all the door knocking, phone banking, and general haranguing you like; it simply won't make the slightest bit of difference in the final outcome.

That brings us to the second issue. In deciding whom to vote for, all of the polls are moot if you have strong, favorable convictions about a candidate. That is, even if you live in a state where your vote will have absolutely no bearing on the outcome, you should still vote for Hillary Clinton (or Donald Trump, for that matter) if you believe she (or he, god bless you) is the best choice for president.

In this case your vote, while statistically irrelevant and utterly inconsequential, will still be an honest expression of your political will. As such, casting your ballot for a candidate you enthusiastically endorse will contribute to the healthy functioning of American democracy. You will help make the final vote count an accurate reflection of the people's will.

However, I do not think Hillary Clinton will actually be a good president. I believe that, on balance, she will be a bad president.

Yes, next to Donald Trump, Clinton looks like the second coming of Christ. But next to Richard Nixon, Donald Trump looks like Beelzebub.

When I stand back and evaluate Clinton on her own merits, I come away less than thrilled. And that's putting it mildly.

Clinton strikes me as a center-right, neo-liberal pragmatist with questionable values who will show little compunction about striking ill-advised bargains with Congressional Republicans that end up exacerbating current economic problems. I also see her as a liberal interventionist in the mode of Woodrow Wilson or, ironically enough, Lyndon Johnson, who will be quick to send U.S. troops into war zones where they don't belong.

I believe Clinton will be a much better president than Trump, and if Maryland were in play, I would vote for her. But it simply is not.

Like most Americans, I live in a state that is not in play, and so I have no role to play in determining who will be president. At the same time, I do not think Clinton will be a good president; She represents many political values that I stand in opposition to, voting for her would be a misrepresentation of my political will, and on some level then, a disservice to American democracy. Thus, it would be both pointless and dishonest for me to vote for her.

If a vote is a neither an honest expression of the voter's beliefs and values, nor a strategic calculation to influence results, then it serves no practical purpose while degrading American democratic institutions by presenting a warped image of Americans' political desires. In the end, such a vote, often cast out of fear, constricts our vision of what American democracy can be instead of expanding the realm of possibilities.

Millions of Americans are in a similar position. They live in states that are not up for grabs, their presidential vote in that respect is mathematically meaningless, and they are only lying to themselves and others if they bluster on about their ballot having a practical effect in choosing a winner. At the same time, they might dislike one candidate a fair bit more than the other, but they don't actually like and would rather not support either.

And they don't need to.

If you live in a state that is not in play, and neither major party candidate represents your political ideals to a degree that you feel comfortable with, then it's time to do what many people wrongly believe is “throwing away your vote.”

The most obvious approach is to express yourself earnestly and vote for a third party candidate who actually does represent your values, or at least comes closer than anyone else. I have done this in the past, usually voting for independent or Green Party candidates.

However, while it may not be obvious in America's winner-take-all electoral formula, there is in fact a way for citizens in non-competitive states to cast a crassly strategic vote for a third party candidate.

No, Jill Green is not going to win the presidency. Under any circumstances. But for smaller parties, there actually is an important prize for finishing a strong third or even fourth.

If a political party receives 5% of the popular vote nationwide, they become eligible for public campaign financing in the next cycle. That adds up to well over $20,000,000. Major parties are also eligible for this money, but always decline it because they can raise much more on their own, which is not allowed if you accept public funds. Third parties, however, can make enormous strides by accessing these public funds, which far exceed what they can normally raise from private sources.

Currently, Jill Stein is polling at about 2%. She would need to double up to reach the magic number. Meanwhile, Libertarian Gary Johnson is polling at about 9%, well over the threshold for public campaign financing.

For this reason alone, I am considering voting for Johnson even though I am not a Libertarian.

To be perfectly blunt about it, I think Johnson is a very weak candidate. More generally, I have serious problems with Libertarian ideology. My biggest grievance is that I see economic libertarianism as a näive contrivance which, if ever implemented, would likelier lead us into neo-feudalism than some magical free market paradise.

I do often agree with social libertarianism. For example, the nation's drug laws have wrought profound damage on American society, and abortion should remain legal, period. Then again, I think some issues, such as sex work, are a bit more complicated and call for nuance, not absolutism. Likewise, Libertarian foreign policy is a bit too disengaged for my taste. While I worry deeply about liberal interventionism, and outright despise more naked forms of imperial aggression, I do think U.S. foreign policy should be robust without being bellicose; the world is a dangerous place, and shades of isolationism don't cut it.

In other words, I would not vote for Gary Johnson if doing so could swing Maryland to Trump (it can't), or if he actually had a chance of becoming president (which he absolutely does not).

But since my vote is completely extraneous in determining the winner of either my state or the general election, I am free to make a calculated decision. And I ha5ve come to the point where I want to see almost any minor party make some headway against the duopoly. While the Greens are my first choice, they are lagging. If Stein gets closer to striking distance, I will go with them. If not, however, I may cast a vote to shore up the Libertarian total even though I have no affinity for that party. Simply put, I want my vote to help a minor party crack 5%, garner federal campaign financing, and build themselves up with a stronger political presence at all levels.

And to be even crasser and more strategic about it, consider the following. As the Libertarians rise, it will likely hurt the Republican Party far more than it will hurt the Democrats. American Libertarians' main plank (free market economics) is much more in line with the Elephants than the Donkeys. Building up the Libertarian Party can inflict long term damage on the GOP.

The Republican Party is currently in chaos, but odds are it will quickly recover after the disaster of November 8, 2016 is behind them. Its organization is still stout at the local level. And the Republican National Committee will almost certainly shore up party rules, making it nearly impossible for a repeat of the Trump fiasco. They'll continue to profit from their position in the duopoly, maintaining an air of respectability no matter how far to the right they drift. They'll continue to be a force in the Senate even if they lose their majority. They'll probably even hold onto the House of Representatives for years to come because U.S. Congressional districts are thoroughly gerrymandered.

But a successful Libertarian Party, even on a small scale, can split votes and thereby minimize the damage Republicans inflict on the nation. And if all that public money begins translating into Libertarian mayors, state legislators, and even some Congressional members, then things will get interesting.

For these reasons, then, I am prepared to vote for a candidate I do not support, who belongs to a party with dubious ideology. Except, unlike so many people, in doing so I won't be voting for either a Republican or a Democrat. It might be a Green. Or, perish the thought, I might cast a ballot for Libertarian Gary Johnson, safe in the knowledge that he cannot win.

Then again, if a majority of Nobel committee members could vote to give little Bobby Zimmerman its Me-Good-With-Words prize, then I suppose anything's possible.

Indeed, we are living amid the blinding sunburst of fading Boomer glory.

Akim Reinhardt's website is ThePublicProfessor.com. Visiting it is yet another form of throwing away your vote.

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