My quick take on voting for Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, etc.:
There’s a system called “ranked choice voting”. If your candidate does not win, your vote goes to your second-choice candidate, and then to your third-choice candidate.
Ranked choice voting would eliminate many of the biases and limitations of the two-party system. Ranked choice voting would allow smaller parties to win real support, since voting for their candidates would not be considered “throwing away a vote”. That in turn could encourage greater voter turnout. With ranked choice voting, our elections could truly reflect the will of the people, as in many ways our present system does not. Ranked choice voting would allow us to vote for the best candidate, AND pick a back-up to avoid catastrophe. We could each be proud of our idealism without making the problem much worse.
There’s only one problem:
WE DON’T HAVE RANKED CHOICE VOTING.
We have a winner-take-all system where every candidate competes against all the others to get the most votes. That’s the system we have, and a whimsical approach to voting only makes the problem worse.
Under our present system, a vote for one candidate rejects all others equally. If two leading candidates are racing to claim the most votes, every vote for a third candidate relinquishes any say in the decision. If one of these unappealing but more popular candidates is merely disappointing while the other is an historic nightmare waiting to unfold, every fringe-candidate vote brings the nightmare closer to reality.
Our present system demands a very different approach than ranked-choice voting would.
Yet many voters – many of our most involved, informed, concerned voters – still choose their votes as if we have ranked choice voting.
They study the fringes and write in their daring choices as if they were selecting a designer outfit to express their unique tastes. That the fate of the nation, vital freedoms and laws affecting generations to come, international relations spanning the globe, the health of the world’s economy and tens of thousands of lives will be shaped by the actual result of the election…all that is utterly disregarded. “Self-expression” or “voting my heart” is somehow embraced as a higher goal than personal responsibility for our collective fate.
“Our collective fate” also disproportionately affects the poor and disadvantaged, of course. Supporting a fringe candidate may utterly fail to support them.
There is often an explanation.
“Only by supporting outsider parties can we purge our system of its current state of corruption.” This is the right goal, but exactly the wrong approach. Allowing the worst candidate to win makes the problem worse and our opponents more powerful.
Demanding ranked-choice voting would support outsider parties and may ultimately purge our system of corruption, but making idealistic choices within our present system allows worst-case scenarios to unfold. The stakes this year are EXTREMELY high.
“If enough people did what I’m doing, we’d be successful.” This is true, just as it’s true that enough people buying your product could make your business a success. Bankruptcy courts are full of companies that would have been profitable if they’d had more customers, but the customers never materialized. We need to navigate elections as they are, not as we would like them to be.
“I refuse to support ‘the lesser of two evils’”. That idea sounds noble, except: refusing to support ‘the lesser of two evils’ directly supports the greater of the two evils. Rescuing a donut thief from a mass murderer is supporting “the lesser of two evils”, but it’s also the right thing to do.
Many of us grow to adulthood without facing difficult choices. Family, money, and personal safety have allowed us to make decisions only when an optimal result is available. Yet life demands that we make some choices that do not immediately flatter our idealism and impatience with a flawed system.
To truly be part of the solution, we must accept that we are also, inevitably and inescapably, a tiny part of the problem. Only by doing so can we help to steer the wayward vessel toward a safe landing.