Who’s wasting their vote?

September 14, 2016

Voting for a candidate that you don't want is the real waste, writes Emily Shaw.

EVERY FOUR years, socialists and others who have broken from the two-party straitjacket are both subjected to, and the subjects of, thousands and more denunciations, from media "think" pieces to angry Facebook rants, for our audacity to vote for a candidate we might actually want, say a Green or a socialist, rather than the Democratic Party's candidate.

We're told every time a canvasser knocks on our door that "every vote matters"--that is, until we express our intention to vote for a better alternative than the Democrat. Then we're accused of "wasting" our vote at best--and, at worst, of handing the country over to the Right, tantamount to inaugurating "the next Hitler."

I've seen an article by Stephen Weese titled "How Not to Waste Your Vote: A Mathematical Analysis" shared over social media. The article provides insight into the millions of wasted votes in American elections--votes that effectively "do not count." It should be of great interest to every Clinton supporter who is concerned about wasted votes!

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Weese walks through the 2000 election and the 2016 election, explains the actual power of a single vote, and goes into the mathematical rationale for the "safe state" strategy, as well as the pitfalls of that strategy, from an analytical perspective.

The most compelling portion of the essay is Weese's analysis of what constitutes a "wasted vote." According to Weese, the definitions of a wasted vote, mathematically speaking, are: 1) Votes cast for candidates who do not win; and 2) Excess votes for candidates who do win.

I won't use the same examples as Weese, but using his framework, every single vote cast for Al Gore in 2000 was, by definition, a "wasted vote." Every single vote for John Kerry was also a "wasted vote." There were millions of wasted votes for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and there will be millions of wasted votes for Clinton this election.

Let me repeat that: There will be millions of wasted votes for Clinton this election.

If any liberals reading this are about to have a heart attack, let me put your mind at ease: There will also be millions of wasted votes for Trump in this election, too. Though frankly, if he is "the next Hitler," that shouldn't give anyone any peace of mind--but the point is that there will be millions of wasted votes this year for both major party candidates.

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For anyone concerned about "wasted votes," this should be a compelling argument against the first-past-the-post electoral system--which, by the way, the Green Party's Jill Stein is the only presidential candidate to advocate against.

HOWEVER,WHAT Weese misses in his argument--and what most, if not all, Clinton supporters also miss in theirs--is that not everyone who rejects both Clinton and Trump does so simply because we reject their policies (though we do), but because we reject their parties and the two-party system they represent.

Thus, I would like to propose a third definition of a wasted vote to add to Weese's mathematical analysis. After all, votes, as well as abstentions, are ideologically motivated (yes, apathy is ideological--there is a reason for voter reticence beyond "laziness").

My definition of a wasted vote is this: Voting for a candidate one doesn't want. I can think of no simpler explanation.

If you vote for the candidate you want, there's no such thing as a wasted vote. If you voted for a self-identified socialist in the primaries because that was the candidate you wanted to see win the presidential nomination, I encourage you to think long and hard before you decide to vote for the candidate of a pro-capitalist party in the general election.

I hope you don't consider your primary vote "wasted" because it was cast for a losing candidate. What was so inspiring about that candidate was not solely their personage, but the possibility that the message would win.

Capitulating to the illogic of lesser evilism means that we all lose. As the five-time socialist candidate for president Eugene V. Debs said over a century ago: "I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want and get it."

Or as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said earlier this year, "Vote your conscience."

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