No one likes a third party voter.
I know this is true because I am one.
Historically speaking, I tend to vote Republican but I’ve never voted a straight GOP ticket. My approach to politics is pretty moderate. I lean fiscally conservative, environmentally conscious, socially conservative-libertarian, and prefer local over state or federal control on issues like social services, education and economic development. I am often willing to vote in favor of the more progressive local initiatives that legitimately address local problems. And, for the past three presidential general elections, I’ve voted for a third party presidential candidate.
But voting for a third party candidate, especially in a battleground state like Ohio, is not a very popular decision.
I’ve heard all the arguments–I’m throwing my vote away. I’m helping “the other guy” win. Or, worse, I’m betraying every person who is directly affected by the election results and abusing my privilege by doing it.
I’d argue that none of these arguments respects the true power of an individual vote, nor the distinctive power of a third party vote. But, the Electoral College being what it is, I also know my candidate will never actually receive my vote.
So why do it?
A few quick things to consider, for those of you who have been told that you absolutely must vote within the “GOP vs DEM” paradigm, even if both options make you queasy or betray your conscience–
First, every vote is counted. That means that your vote actually speaks. It speaks about what you want to happen, about the platform you can get behind, and about the people you want in office making decisions for you. And if you vote for something that you don’t actually want because you’re playing some sort of political poker game, you are communicating something false.
Because the election results do not communicate nuance. The men and women in a conference room in Washington D.C. tracking votes here in Cincinnati, Ohio don’t see the reason you cast your vote for This Guy or That Guy. They can’t possibly know that you only voted for Guy 1 because Guy 2 is a jerk, for example. Or that you don’t really stand behind the platform of Guy 2, but it’s not quite as troublesome as that of Guy 1. (They don’t read your Instagram stories *ahem* and most of us will not be interviewed as we exit the polls and be given a chance to explain our vote.)
The only thing those vote-counters know is that you voted for Guy 1. Because your vote–your actual vote–says, plainly, “I vote for Guy 1.”
So, what does a vote for Guy 3 say?
In a political system where nearly every voter has always voted for a Guy 1 or Guy 2, voting third party says, “I vote for Guy 3 instead.”
And, when your third party vote is a vote that actually reflects what you want instead of Guy 1 or Guy 2, it also tells them why they lost you to Guy 3. Every vote represents wishes and desires because every person running for office has a platform. And you have communicated which platform you support—a third option.
What else does a third party vote accomplish?
It strengthens bipartisanship by challenging the “this or that” narrative of our two-party system. It presents other options as valid options and proves we–voters–are interested in exploring them.
It strengthens the backbone of politicians by proving there are voters and constituents who are interested in issues more than major party affiliation and who will support them when they cross the party line or take more moderate positions.
It strengthens the platform of future third party candidates by showing what voters actually support. And, with every new election that has increased third party voting, we move further away from a two-party trap.
And, call me crazy, but it could actually change the Republican and Democratic party today. If a large number of constituents (speaking through the numbers themselves) leave the party and vote for a third party, it calls the party platforms into question in a way that might actually be addressed.
“Oh! I guess voters really do care about environmental issues.”
“Oh, geez. Americans are way more interested in healthcare issues than we thought!”
“Yikes. I guess this immigration thing really struck a chord with people.”
“If we want to get those voters back,” they may think, “maybe we need to listen.”
(Heck, crazier things have happened.)
But–here’s the bad news.
What does a third party vote NOT accomplish?
It doesn’t win the presidency.
At least not in 2020.
To vote third party in good conscience in 2020, you have to have a fairly conservative view of the presidential office. You have to trust the design of our federal government, the separation of powers, and depend on the limits of executive power. (You cannot believe that the winner of the Oval Office takes all.)
You have to do your homework and pay close attention to other candidates, offices, and positions of authority. And you have to take your local vote and community engagement seriously.
You have to trust that the American people–not their government–hold the power to make our country great.
You have to have a sense of the sovereignty of the Creator of the universe over all of us and trust that the fate of the world does not rest on us choosing “the right person.”
And, honestly, here is where the real acts of citizenship and civic duty come into play: to vote this way, you have to commit to not only voting your conscience but also acting in accordance with your conscience, regardless of who ends up in the White House.
Decently loving your neighbor every day is worth 1,000 “virtuous,” anonymous votes on Election Day.
At the end of your life, you will be accountable for your actions, your words, your spending, your service, and your choices.
Our votes are important, but they’re not primary. This is how we change the world: by how we live our lives.
I don’t need your approval for my third party vote.
But, if you think it’s your best option, we welcome yours.