You're Free to Vote Your Conscience!

An enormous number of Americans do not like either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, the major parties' 2016 candidates for U.S. President. Most of these Americans will probably end up voting for either Trump or Clinton anyway, or they'll stay home and won't vote at all. Those who ultimately vote for Trump or Clinton will justify their choice as "tactical voting," a chance to avoid the greater disaster they think the other candidate will bring, or in other words, a vote for the "lesser of two evils."

Believe it or not, though, you probably have no real reason to vote for a candidate you dislike. For the vast majority of Americans, "tactical voting" won't make any difference whatsoever in the outcome of the election. Instead, you are perfectly free to vote your conscience and choose the candidate that you most admire and agree with, even if they have little chance of winning the race. You won't have to hold your nose and vote for the "lesser evil" after all!

Check out this map I made to see if you live in an orange-colored state and are free to vote your conscience:


Think back to your high school American government course. Hopefully you learned about the electoral college, and if you remember the details you'll know exactly what this map means. If you do know all about the electoral college, please skip the following italicized section. If you want more explanation, read on:

Designed during the writing of the U.S. Constitution, the original intent of the Electoral College was to allow states and state legislatures to indirectly elect the President through choosing electors—a select number of men who'd vote for the state's preferred candidate. Each state was allotted electors equal to their number of members of Congress—so every state has a minimum of three, and the rest receive more roughly according to their population size. Eventually, all of the states concluded that they would choose their electors (or really, award their electoral votes) through a popular election, and today all but two of the states (Nebraska and Maine) still award all of their electoral votes as a single bloc—"winner-take-all." Riffing off our founders' idea, the country made steps forward toward popular democracy, but the presidential election remains an indirect one.

This system of allocating electoral votes through state-by-state elections means that most states are "safe" for one political party or the other in the presidential election. A clear majority of voters in that state will favor one party in every election, meaning that all the state's electoral votes will go to that party's candidate every time. All of the orange states above are generally considered "safe" for the 2016 presidential election (see 270towin.com): As long as most voters follow the usual partisan patterns in their state, the winner of their state's electoral votes is all but predetermined. The choices of individual voters in those states are irrelevant to the result of the contest—a depressing idea, in one sense, but entirely liberating in another.

I wish there was no Electoral College. If we had a nationwide popular election for our President, the vote of a Democrat in Utah would count just as much as a Republican's in Rhode Island, and we'd live up to the democratic concept of "one person, one vote." Ideally, we'd have a two-round or other runoff voting system, which would accommodate voting your conscience and tactical voting. Until then, however, we need to understand the electoral system that we have, and take advantage of the opportunity it gives most of us to confidently vote our conscience.

Go ahead and research past presidential election results in your state. If you live in a longtime swing state like Florida, Ohio, or New Hampshire, you'll probably see some nail-biters that will convince you that voting tactically is the only option. I don't begrudge anyone choosing between Trump or Clinton in a swing state, even if they're both horrible candidates. I'd probably do the same. If you live in most states, though, you'll see five, ten, twenty-percent margins or more separating the top two candidates election after election, representing tens if not hundreds of thousands of votes. In such states, all arguments for tactical voting are bullshit.

Don't let anyone bully you by saying "a vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Trump!" or "a vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Hillary!" I know many people with an anti-third party bone to pick will keep making such claims from now until the election. They're wrong—and they either don't understand the Electoral College or they vastly overestimate the power of third party candidates (which doesn't say much for the candidate they're supporting).

Personally, I am very happy that there is no logical reason for me to vote for Trump or Clinton. I'll be voting for the candidate I most agree with and respect. I hope you do, too.

Addenda:

  • In case you need further convincing, even Ross Perot's campaign in 1992—the most successful outside presidential campaign since 1912, in which Perot garnered nearly 20% of the popular vote—is generally accepted as still not having changed any state results.
  • I will not abide the tired old slander that voters for Ralph Nader spoiled the 2000 election for Al Gore and handed the victory to George Bush. Calling this claim a myth is far too generous; it's a deliberate smear of a national hero (and third-party voters) that deflects attention from the culpability of the Supreme Court and Gore himself in the election result. Read this thorough debunking on all counts if you must, but don't discuss that crap with me.
  • Lastly, some bright people may have come up with a modern-day way to ensure you can cast a third-party vote guilt-free, even in a swing state. Check out burnmyvote.org, a website where you can sign up to pledge that you will not vote for either of the two major parties. The trick is that you also have to say which of the two major parties you'd vote for if you had to—and the website will then match you with someone else in your state who would have voted for the other party. Instead of cancelling each other out with tactical votes, you free each other to vote your conscience!

Please leave me any comments, questions, or criticisms below (except about Nader in 2000!).

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