One of my first memories of the political process was assisting my mother in door-to-door campaigning for a local city council race, handing out pamphlets. At one of our stops we ran into an older man who politely turned down our papers, who in the pause before we moved next door, held forth on the irrationality of voting.
According to him, the danger inherent to voting was to appoint a candidate you could not be completely sure of. The man commented to the effect of: “If you don’t want to vote for one person because you don’t like his policies, what happens if you vote for the other guy and he turns out to be a lemon once he gets into office too?” The years have dulled the exact phrasing, but the memory and his message remains distinct.
The same paranoia of voting ‘wrong’ continues to be expressed today. Nothing raises fears about the democratic system more than a presidential election cycle, and despite the amount of partisan advertisements attempting to sway voters, one of the largest challenges is convincing people to vote at all.
The most commonly heard expression of voter exasperation is the phrase ‘throw-away vote’. Frequently used to describe the choice of voting for a third-party candidate or writing in a candidate of your choice, the phrase highlights the unlikelihood of those candidates winning the election.
Frustration with the two-party system is understandable, and so is the desire for your vote to have a tangible outcome, hopefully the victory of your chosen candidate. As third-party candidates seldom gain significant percentages of the vote, much less win national elections, the disenchantment with third-party voting seems natural.
Yet the flippancy of the ‘throw-away vote’ is one of the most irritating ways of expressing dissatisfaction with our democratic system. A third-party vote may not win a presidential election (at least, the odds of that are astronomical), but voting for a third-party candidate who does not win is no more throwing away your vote than the estimated half the country who voted for the loosing central candidate threw away their vote.
Voting is an expression of will, a representation of the direction each voter wants to guide our nation to. A vote for a third-party candidate is not sacrificing your civic voice, though it may be more symbolic than immediately effective. But symbols have power, and should a significant portion of the population choose to endorse someone outside the partisan system, then that will affect the candidates chosen in coming years.
It is a voter’s prerogative to choose how to vote, including abstention. But the move to educate voters must go beyond understanding candidate platforms; education must also encompass the impact that voting carries.
Regardless of which candidate is victorious in an election, a vote is a record of your opinion. Not voting at all is not a mark of disapproval; it is viewed as a demonstration of apathy. So in this upcoming election cycle if you truly cannot stomach voting for either Clinton or Trump, demonstrate that. Do not let the strength of your convictions go unrepresented: one way or another, vote.