The False Promise of Voting Your Conscience
10 months ago Alger Mag Editor 0
Flashback to 8:00 P.M. November 7th, 2000.
Polls have just closed across Florida, and every major television news network has just presumptively declared Al Gore the next president of the United States. Then, only six and a half hours later, polling data of most of Florida’s voting districts shows George W. Bush with a sudden and unexpected lead of 100,000 votes, what seemed insurmountable. At this time Al Gore privately conceded the election and handed Bush the victory. Suddenly, in a sweeping turn of events, a final count at 4:30am showed Gore had narrowed the distance to an astonishing 2,000 votes, just a fraction of a percent difference. With victory in sight, Gore withdrew his concession and a mandatory recount was called. The end results? George Bush won the state, and secured the presidency, with a simple majority of 537 votes. Yes, 537 votes out of a total of over five million. Less than a 0.0001% victory margin.
Now, let’s look at the most popular third party that election cycle, the Green Party. At the time led by Ralph Nader, the Green Party surged in popularity in the 2000’s. The self-described eco-socialist party lines up many left-wing ideals of social justice, anti-racism, gender equality, and LGBTQ+ rights. Due in part to this platform similarity, the Green Party of the 2000’s drew many frustrated Democrats to its flag. According to Florida’s Division of Elections archives, Nader walked away from the state’s general election with a clean 1.6% of the vote.
Here is where things get controversial. Simply put, the Green Party “stole” 42,000 votes from Gore, thereby costing him the election. According to David Khun of CBS News, “Voter News Service exit polling showed that 47 percent of Nader’s Florida supporters would have voted for Gore, and 21 percent for Mr. Bush, easily covering the margin of Gore’s loss.” While it is ridiculous to claim that this was the only reason Gore lost, it seems that Nader’s followers could have prevented the election of George Bush.
So here we are, back in the present. Mere months away from electing the 45th president of the United States. If this is your first time voting, welcome! If you’re a grizzled veteran of the chaotic seas of US politics, I applaud your resilience. Do you see any parallels between the 2000 election and today’s election? Because the voter frustration and third party popularity should seem familiar. Many voters are unhappy with their party’s official nominee, be that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. In the midst of this displeasure, many voters have turned to the Green Party’s current presidential candidate Jill Stein or the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson. I must stress that I am neither claiming they would make bad nor good presidents. I am saying that it doesn’t matter either way – because we will never actually have the chance to find out. Our current electoral system ensures that they can never be president.
“Anybody can grow up to be president if they try hard enough!” Although this classic phrase of encouragement is appealing, it’s simply not true if the person in question is running as a third party candidate. In fact only twice have third party candidates even come in second place, Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 and John C. Breckinridge in 1860. Yes, each were over 100 years ago.
Simply put, our first-past-the-post “winner take all” system ensures the success of one of the two major parties and ensures the failure of any hopeful third party. As we’ve seen as recently as the fateful 2000 election, any moderately popular third party inevitably takes the majority of its newfound voters from one of the two major parties – and with two popular third-party candidates this cycle, the effect will be even stronger. If one day you and several thousand of your closest friends decide to vote for a third party, it is suddenly several thousand votes easier for the opposing candidate to win, the one with whom you disagree the most. It is now starkly clear that those few thousand votes really can make all the difference.
Yes, our current system is one that consistently guarantees the majority of the voting populace is at least generally unsatisfied with the victor of each presidential race, if for no other reason than the fact that two people simply cannot represent the ideals of 318 million people. This is the reality of our two-party electorate. But that is the system that we have to work with. Should we, as the voting population, demand change? Absolutely! But does voting third party affect the continuation of that system? Unfortunately, no. As the well known podcaster and YouTube personality CGP Grey eloquently put it, “the better a third party candidate does, the more it hurts its own voters by guaranteeing a loss for the party they most agree with and a win for the party they most disagree with.”
Does any of this mean you should feel obligated to vote for Hillary or Trump? Absolutely not. The beauty of our system is that your vote is just that, yours. No one can tell you how you must use it. But this in no way excuses you from doing your absolute best to affect the election in the way you believe will be most advantageous. Being part of a democratic system means that voters must take personal responsibility for their vote, do their research, and on voting day make the most informed decision possible. Is supporting a third party truly the most effective way to use your vote?
By: Sam Taglia
Florida Division of Elections (elections archive): https://results.elections.myflorida.com/Index.asp?ElectionDate=11/7/2000&DATAMODE=