“Democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no ‘two evils’ exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say.” — W.E.B. Du Bois
As their primary mercifully nears its end and loyal Democrats reluctantly unite behind their nominee, media consumers are beset by a legion of Democratic officials and their proxy pundits insisting that every eligible voter on the left not only should vote for the Democratic candidate, but that one is obligated to do so. In order to prevent the apocalyptic catastrophe of the presidency of a walking, talking sum-of-all-evil whose name is unworthy to share a paragraph with the word “presidency,” one must set aside preference and cast their vote for the Democrat. A vote for a minor party candidate, or no vote at all, is equated to a vote for the Republican candidate. Under these terms, the would-be minor party voter is no longer a free elector. They are a hostage to a two-party system that has worked for decades to ensure that a dissenting vote can only be a wasted vote.
The effort to dissuade left-leaning voters from exercising their fundamental civil right to vote their preferences is a quadrennial refrain among Democrats and their champions in the press. It has become more common since the Democrats’ defeat in the 2000 presidential election, after which Ralph Nader and the Green Party were offered as convenient scapegoats for the outcome of the election and the crimes of the Bush administration. This was their sentence for having the audacity to run a campaign for president, and for soliciting votes that by right and tradition ought to be Democratic.
The question of Nader’s level of responsibility for the outcome of the election has been thoroughly studied and argued, and it is a topic worthy of research for those interested in the historicity of the Democrats’ popular narrative of the 2000 election. I reject as undemocratic and politically bigoted the notion that minor parties bear any obligation to conduct their campaigns in a manner beneficial to a major party. Geographically selective campaigning, restricting their campaigns to uncompetitive or down-ticket elections, and other accommodations suggested by Democrats would reinforce minor parties’ unviability and demoralize their members.
Though they may feel a strong sense of ownership over the American electorate and the electoral process, the major parties’ popularity and dominance in that process grant them no greater right to participation in it than any minor party. Similarly, the closeness of an election and the potential for the election of a Republican (even a uniquely monstrous one) do not diminish the minor parties’ obligations to their members to seek election and to strive for viability in our flawed system. If anything, the methods employed by the two major parties to disadvantage and disqualify the minor parties through lawsuits, onerous ballot access laws, and exclusion from televised debates incentivize them to retaliate by disrupting the electoral process in any way they can.
Had Nader acquiesced to Democrats’ calls for him to withdraw from the race, it is likely that some of his voters would have voted for Gore, but his influence should be measured against other contributing factors. The deeply flawed election processes in Florida made voting for one’s preferred candidate needlessly difficult and confusing. They also made the task of determining voter intent in a manual recount nearly impossible. Palm Beach County’s infamous “butterfly ballot” (designed by a Democrat) resulting in Pat Buchanan’s otherwise inexplicably strong showing there is one example of how the state of Florida failed in its duty to provide for its citizens a legitimate election.
The Democratic Party’s role and responsibility in sustaining and legitimizing a flawed electoral system is rarely acknowledged or criticized by advocates of tactical least-of-the-worst voting. This system allows for the circumstance in which the winner of the popular vote loses the presidential election, it obligates minor parties to function only as spoilers, and it effectively disenfranchises every minor party voter.
In the wake of the 2000 election, it would have been far more beneficial to their party and the country for the Democrats to have made a concerted push for meaningful systemic changes. Reforms such as the abolition of the electoral college, instant-runoff voting, or the elimination of first-past-the-post single-member plurality districts in favor of a proportional representation system would empower minor party voters to be more than the spoiling protest voters that the major parties force them to be. Instead, the Democrats launched a propaganda campaign attributing their loss to the success of a minor party candidate’s campaign. Legislating is hard, talking is easy, and blaming the little guy is easier still. The system itself, they tell us, is sound.
And what about the corps of tactical voting evangelist-pundits and the DNC officials — unable to earn your vote — attempting to coax it from you by exploiting your fear of the GOP nominee? They are uniformly silent on issues of electoral reform in the interim period between elections. That your vote is meaningful is far less important for them than its being helpful. I question the commitment to republicanism of anyone for whom the defeat of the GOP forever takes primacy over the inclusion of minor parties and their supporters in our elections and government.
The conditions of our present electoral system are such that minor party candidates can only function as spoilers. The two major parties are best positioned to change this. It is unlikely that either will legislate themselves out of their privileged duopoly absent an organized and well-financed lobby advocating for the cause. One is faced then with a choice of conscience: Does one cast a symbolic protest vote for their preferred party which may or may not affect the outcome of the election in favor of a viable party they do not support? Or does one disenfranchise oneself and cast a tactical vote for a viable party they do not support, thereby accepting complicity in legitimizing and sustaining an inherently corrupt and unrepresentative system? In either scenario, the likelihood of your vote having any impact whatsoever on the outcome of the election is extremely remote.
We are told the same story every 4 years. Democrats and their surrogates insist that this election is unique: the contest is too close, the stakes too high, the outcome too important. How long will we continue to believe it?
If you’re waiting for the opportune election in which you can vote your conscience without being labeled a spoiler, don’t hold your breath. For Democrats and Republicans, there will never be an election in which it will be palatable for minor parties to receive your vote. In a healthy democracy, elections are competitive. The calls for tactical voting behavior to prevent the election of the opposing major party’s candidate will not cease, nor will blaming of minor parties for the outcome of elections. Although policy outcomes are dramatically worse for the vast majority of people under Republican rule, the goal of achieving comprehensive systemic change in our elections (as the requisite means of achieving all other policy goals) must be paramount for Libertarians, Greens, Communists, Prohibitionists, etc. On this point of policy, the two major parties find rare agreement: this is our election, you’re just voting in it.
Every voter must decide for themselves what will ultimately motivate their decision, but I will vote for a candidate I support, not against a candidate I fear. For the would-be minor party voter, the two major parties have worked together to place and keep you in your role as a spoiler. Do you show your gratitude with compliance when one of them asks you not to spoil the election? Until the major parties enact systemic electoral reform, it is incumbent upon all who want reform to continue to spoil elections by exercising that most radically subversive and dangerous form of protest: voting for the party and candidate whose platform most closely aligns with one’s politics and values. And if the Republican candidate wins, the architects and protectors of the system that permits that to happen will bear significantly more responsibility for that outcome than the third-party voter whose choice actually was a choice and not a capitulation.