Thursday, October 30, 2008 1 Comment
Originally published October 23, 2008.
As the days until November 4th fly past us with increasing speed, we’re watching Senators Obama and McCain campaign in swing states with renewed vigor. We’ve flocked to our televisions for three presidential debates between the two nominees, and one for their running mates. It’s impossible to go anywhere and not see one of these four names, and when one is mentioned, the other three are sure to follow.
What you don’t see are the names Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root. Despite his constant presence in presidential elections, you don’t really see Ralph Nader either, or his running mate Matt Gonzales. You certainly don’t see the names Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente. But in most states, the Libertarian, Independent and Green candidates will be on the ballot. What’s more, choices from all three representations will be interspersed among selections for federal and state congressional positions.
So, for all those undecided voters out there: If neither Obama nor McCain appeals to you, perhaps one of those other tickets does. But with them looms the dread of the “wasted vote.”
We all know the concept of the wasted vote. I lived in Texas during the 2004 election, and although I wasn’t old enough to vote at the time, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway – one blue vote in a sea of red. Similarly during this race, Illinois’s allegiance to Obama has never been questioned.
We stress our civic duty as an opportunity for the people to shape their governments. Our vote is our voice. Therefore, people should vote for whomever they believe to be the best candidate for the job – so we say, anyway. It’s difficult to deny the reality that the United States is often mired by fanatically bipartisan political representation. To vote for a politician unaffiliated with either major party, in most cases, means voting for someone who doesn’t stand a chance at actually winning office. In this sense, it becomes easy to believe that a vote for someone other than a Republican or a Democrat is also a wasted one. How can we help but feel disillusioned about the power of our beliefs?
In a presidential election, this may all be of debatable consequence depending upon how you view the Electoral College. Federal and state congressional elections are a different matter when it comes to the impact of the popular vote, but the wasted vote concept still applies. The dilemma: Do you vote for someone who really represents your beliefs but who likely won’t win, or do you bite the bullet and vote for a major-party person who you don’t completely support because they are a “realistic choice”?
If you’re diametrically opposed to the other major-party candidate, this question is crucial. If you vote for the third-party candidate you really want, you’re obviously subtracting a vote from the candidate you despise. However, if the race is tight, you’re also taking a vote from the tolerable major-party contender that could actually win the position.
This whole conundrum plays directly into the way the media frames elections as sporting events. If we have to consider whether to vote “strategically,” our attention over time ceases to focus on the policy goals of candidates (aside from trendy central issues, for which candidates will provide no detailed, step-by-step solutions). Their potential for victory becomes most important, trailed by our tolerance of said candidates – a short-sighted goal in an increasingly short-sighted bipartisan political system.
To everyone willing to cast their ballot toward people they wholeheartedly support, I admire you. Unfortunately, I find myself thinking back to Ralph Nader. If his status as a write-in on the New Hampshire primary ballot in 1992 is included, his 2008 candidacy will be his fifth. I cannot imagine how jaded one can become spending years backing a person who will never end up in the White House.
Perhaps this is the reason for voter apathy. At some point, we cannot stand to feel let down anymore. Like being unable to turn away from a car accident, we cannot help but be overwhelmed by the constant concern that we have wasted our vote, our hopes and our time. But after mailing my absentee ballot this week, I find myself unable to give up my youthful idealism that every vote counts for something.
Chelsea is a senior in English and music and after voting, can’t stand to wait another 12 days for results.