Verbum Ultimum: A Dangerous Protest
Voting for a third party candidate out of frustration is self defeating.
Election Day is fast approaching. Between the campaigns to register — you really should, it isn’t hard — and the endless speculation over every interruption, fact check and sniffle from Monday’s debate, it seems like the presidential race is all that is on anyone’s mind at the moment. In getting to this point, several people’s preferred candidates on either side have been knocked out of the race. Many progressive, generally younger Democrats bemoan the end of Bernie Sanders’ quixotic attempt at the presidency, and scores of moderate Republicans have expressed uneasiness over having Donald Trump — a man for whom “problematic” is an understatement — represent their party. Because of the numerous real or perceived flaws in both of the candidates, many of which have been reinforced through specific media coverage, the narrative for this election for many Americans has become about choosing between the lesser of two evils.
In response to this seemingly bleak electoral field, third party candidates have begun to pick up steam in the last few weeks. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party have picked up enough momentum to the point that they can no longer be ignored or dismissed. According to a recent poll conducted by Reuters, Johnson commands 7 percent of the electorate and 18 percent of independent voters, while Stein holds 2 percent of the general electorate and 6 percent of independent voters. While this doesn’t seem to indicate that either of them will be sitting in the Oval Office any time soon, these numbers are incredibly significant: three of the last four presidential elections were decided by less than 4 percent. Despite the frustration many voters may feel over the current major party candidates, voting for one of these candidates out of disdain or protest isn’t only wrong — it’s potentially dangerous.
Every four years, candidates and news outlets alike often report that the current election is the most important, pivotal election in history. Yet this particular one does feel especially historic. With the plethora of issues at home and around the world, now more than ever we need a leader in whom we can be confident. In an age when every action of the president is scrutinized and narrativized for America and the world, the person who we put in the White House will play a massive role in establishing the tone of discourse over the next four years and the way America is perceived around the world. By voting for third party candidates such as Johnson or Stein out of a sense of disillusionment or disenfranchisement, voters are just doing more to disenfranchise themselves. They renounce the ability and right to help control that national narrative. Many people may think that all they have are two bad choices, but, in our modern electoral landscape, voting outside of those “bad choices” means you no longer get to choose at all.
If someone wants to vote for Johnson or Stein because they truly feel that they are the candidate who would represent us best for the next four to eight years, then more power to them. However, the ideas of “Bernie or Bust” on the left and “Never Trump” on the right, while constructive as part of the discourse on how we should hold elections, are dangerous when they enter the voting booth. As cynical as it may seem, this is the electoral system that we have in place. The last successful third party presidential candidate was Abraham Lincoln, and that is only because he ran his reelection campaign during the Civil War under the “Union Party,” a combination of Republicans and Democrats interested in keeping the Union together. There is a very important conversation to be had about how we structure our electoral system. From the arcane Electoral College to the institutional and monetary favoritism that is afforded to the two major parties, we need to take a long hard look at American elections.
However, six weeks before Election Day is not the time to have that conversation. Right now, voters need to focus on the direction they want to steer their country. The protest of voting for a third party candidate is an incredibly ironic one because through your protest, you lose the chance to be heard. A choice between two “bad” candidates is still a choice. Don’t give it up.
The editorial board consists of the editorial chair, the opinion editors and the opinion staff.