Let’s be honest here. The chances that your vote or any one person’s vote will matter in the upcoming presidential election are astronomically small. Not only must your vote be the deciding vote in your state, your state’s electoral college votes must be necessary for either candidate to win. One study from 2008 found that even in the closest swing-states, voters only had a one in ten million chance that their vote would matter. In some states, the odds can be as high as one in one billion. You have better odds at winning the Mega Millions or Powerball jackpot.
So what should a voter do? One alternative is to not vote at all. Citing the cost of educating yourself, physically going to cast your ballot and the infinitesimal chances that your vote will even matter, many people rationally choose not to participate in elections. Others argue against voting because non-participation denies the government the sanction it needs to retain power.
Political systems derive their power not from guns and prisons, but from the willingness of those who are to be ruled to expend their energies on their behalf. For state power to exist, a significant number of men and women must sanction the idea of being ruled by others, a sanction that depends, ultimately, upon the credibility of those who exercise such power. When we vote in an election, we are declaring, by our actions, our support for the process of some people ruling others by coercive means. Our motivations for such participation – even if they be openly expressed as a desire to bring state power to an end – do not mitigate the fact that our energies are being employed on behalf of the destructive principle that liberty and social order can best be fostered through the coercive machinery of the state.
From “Why I Do Not Vote” by Butler Shaffer.
However, many people still want to vote, irrespective of the costs and the slim odds that a lone vote will be decisive. Maybe there are other local elections that bring them to the ballot box. Maybe they value the illusory sense of civic participation more than others. Maybe the only reason they vote is because that is what they have always done. Whatever the reason, substantial numbers of voters will turn out to the polls on November 6.
So who should you vote for? Depending on which party you affiliate with, you are probably leaning toward Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. I think we can all agree these are far from perfect candidates. Even the most loyal democrat would criticize Obama’s policy of protecting torturers, prosecuting whistleblowers, his failure to close Guantanamo Bay, and his extrajudicial killing of American citizens. And even the most loyal republican resents Romney’s numerous flip-flops, his refusal to end massive deficit spending, and his plan to increase the debt by $2.6 trillion. If you live in a swing state, you might consider picking between the lesser of two evils. I generally oppose this approach, because a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil. But if that’s what you prefer, I cannot say its irrational.
For those of us who live in non-swing states, however, I submit that a vote for the lesser of two of evils is truly a wasted vote. For one, the outcome in these states is a foregone conclusion. Obama will win New York, California and Illinois. Romney will win Georgia, Texas, and Utah. Nothing you or I do could ever hope to change that fact. So instead of wasting your vote for or against the less evil option, vote for a third party candidate that you believe in. It does not matter who. It might be Libertarian party candidate Gary Johnson, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Constitution party candidate Virgil Goode or someone else. They will not win, but your vote will send a message.
It will send a message to the two main political parties that you reject their orchestrated duopoly on presidential politics. That you reject how the system is rigged so that only two candidates may participate in the debates. It will send the message that you reject reckless deficit spending, perpetual war and a government that can spy on you without a warrant. Your vote may not determine who wins the presidency, but that does not make it meaningless. Let us decide to make our votes mean something more than just a choice between the lesser of two evils. Don’t waste your vote with a flaccid expression of support for either party’s version of the status quo. Vote for a third-party and send a message that Washington cannot ignore.