I wish everybody who believes that voting for a third party in a two-party presidental election is a protest vote would go out and run for office themselves under a third party and work their way up through the system and create a situation where a third party was a viable option instead of taking away a vote for the party which, like it or lump it, their values most closely align, and potentially giving what is still arguably the most powerful political position in the world to someone who has no business holding that position.
Because if you want to change the political stalemate in the US, if you really want to change it, you’re going to have to start at the bottom, not the top. It requires hundreds of individuals dedicated to the third party platform to run for office. To get those politicians into place requires the support of hundreds and thousands of people willing to canvass, financially back, and actually vote for those politicians until the party is widely recognized and represented in local and state governments. Only with that kind of on-the-ground support is there any chance of building a platform in which a third party candidate is a realistic option for the Presidential seat.
And let’s be frank: it will probably still take decades, at that point, to get a third party candidate into the White House. As people have been fervently pointing out, women have been running for President since the 1880s, but it’s taken until the early 21st century for one to become a viable option. The habit of voting for Democrats or Republicans is entrenched; building a legitimate base for a third party candidate has that to surmount too, and even if one should get as far as the presidential elections, entropy is hard to overcome.
I can hear people shouting, “That’s why we’re voting for one now! Break the cycle!” And I get that impulse, I do. I even get that people opting to vote for a third party in the upcoming election *don’t expect to win*, that they are in fact registering a protest vote.
But many thousands of people just voted protest votes in Britain and are horrified to find themselves in a situation where Britain has made a public international statement that as a people they want to leave the EU, and there appears to be no politically viable way out of that. It was a binary vote. There is no safe protest ground in a binary vote: it is either yes or no, on or off, in or out.
Like it or not, at this stage in the political arena of the United States of America, a presidential vote is a binary vote. Voting for a third party does not, in the USA, cause the dominant parties to say “We had better adopt some of this third party’s platform because 5% of the voters clearly feel strongly about it and we want to reflect their passions so they’ll vote for us.”
Well, it would be *nice* if it worked that way, but it would also be nice if I woke up a NYT Bestseller tomorrow morning because that’s what I *want* to have happen with my career. Just because I think it would be nice, or indeed, because I think it’s how it Should Be, doesn’t have any bearing on how it actually is.
To make our presidential elections anything other than a binary choice requires, as I’ve said above, a movement that starts on the ground with the passion of all the people who are unhappy about the binary choices putting their lives and activities where their mouths are and getting into office. This is a much, much, much harder proposition than simply casting a vote for a third party in the presidential election. It requires time and dedication and determination and obstinancy and conviction.
It’s also the only thing that stands a chance of working.
I don’t, incidentally, think voting for a third party is throwing away your vote. I do think, however, that it may be throwing away the country’s future: all too often, third party candidates split the vote and hand the presidential position to the party the third parties have _less_ in common with.
I believe presidential elections are too important to risk that with, and I believe this one in particular is much, much too dangerous to play that game with. The next president will almost certainly be appointing several Supreme Court justices, who will be guiding the United States through the next twenty to forty, even fifty, years of social change and law development. I believe the collective futures of women, people of color, queer people, immigrants–anyone who is not, in essence, a straight white man–should be considered in the balance against the weight of a protest vote.
From where I stand, protecting the safety of those people and the lives of children being born into this world is a vastly more powerful and significant action than the casting of a vote for a third party candidate at the presidential level. From where I stand, running for office as a third party candidate and building the necessary groundwork–a proposition which I realize would be likely to take longer than the lifespan of most people reading this–is taking powerful action. But those options are as far as powerful actions go right now, as far as I’m concerned, because like it or not, this is how the system works.