What’s a Vote-Waster to Do?


I have a confession to make. I’m one of those dreadful people who “waste” their votes. At least this is what I’ve been doing, according to what generally passes for wisdom. And I plan on doing it again this year. Many Americans would tell me that I should be sorry, but I must make one further confession: I’m not.

To authoritarian statists, there are few worse crimes. If I tied a litter of kittens up in a sack and tossed it into a vat of boiling oil, I might offend them more. OK, no, I wouldn’t. I must be careful, in fact, about making my confession around these people, because they just might stuff me into that sack, themselves.

If I lack the option of voting for the candidate I believe in, I have to wonder how much freedom I actually have.

They not only revere the authority of the state, they revere The Process. Because I’m skeptical about the concept of voting for its own sake, they accuse me of failing to appreciate this sacred American right. There are many rights that I consider more sacred, but that these people not only fail to appreciate but appear determined to throw away with both hands. Nor do I neglect to realize that it is better to be able to vote than to be denied that privilege. But as a libertarian, my understanding of what voting is, and what it should accomplish, differs from theirs to a degree so significant that when I try to explain it to them, they react as if I were speaking Neptunian.

Being presented with an artificially limited range of choices — seldom more than two — and given the “right” to choose one of them does not, to me, seem a very impressive exercise of freedom. It’s only one more option than the North Koreans get. And when I opt for a third choice, and am told that I’m wasting my vote, I must ask why. Because if I lack the option of voting for the candidate I believe in, I have to wonder how much freedom I actually have.

Truly, I believe that to vote for one of only two choices would be to waste my vote. At least this is how it stacks up if — as is almost always the case — I would prefer neither. What the conscience-stricken souls who lecture me not to waste my vote are really telling me is that I must choose their option. That I am blessed to live in a land where I can think exactly as they do. Or, more to the point, that Heaven has smiled upon me by relieving me of the burden of having to think at all.

I can only reply that this is a dotty concept of freedom. No wonder we keep getting the same rehashed nonsense every election year. The only real change taking place is that all the while, our freedoms continue to erode. America is frantically voting, on and on, and congratulating itself on its ability to exercise this sacred right, and all the while it is giving away the store. We perch proudly atop our liberty even as, slowly and stealthily, it is being pulled out from under us.

There is a world of difference between settling for a lesser evil — who is, still, evil — and selecting someone who, though imperfect, is actually pretty good.

As the self-appointed scolds keep reminding us, our vote is our voice. And whether our candidate wins or loses, those votes will be studied, tabulated, and analyzed to no end. To vote for the candidate or cause you or I truly believe in, even if we lose the contest for power, is never a waste — not if in casting that ballot, we say, as precisely as possible, what we really mean.

I would prefer the Libertarian Party candidate over whomever the Republicans or the Democrats nominate. Even if he doesn’t stand for everything I like, or says things that disappoint me, he can’t possibly be as bad as the two media-anointed main contenders. In my opinion, indeed, a libertarian candidate can’t be bad at all. There is a world of difference between settling for a lesser evil — who is, still, evil — and selecting someone who, though imperfect (as any human will be), is actually pretty good.

When anybody corners me with a guilt-trip about my “wasted” third-party vote, I’ve begun to respond with this question: when you vote, what are you trying to accomplish? And further, if your purpose is not to make your convictions the clearest they can possibly be, why do you bother? My interrogator is immediately thrown from the offensive to the defensive. It’s a position this bore is likely unused to being in, but richly deserves.

It is better to vote for a “loser,” but make your true convictions known, than it ever could be to vote for a “winner,” only to have your voice drowned out by the crowd. Far from “making your vote count,” exercising the latter option accomplishes no greater good than shouting into an empty well. If enough of us choose the third-party candidate, The System will definitely pull out all the stops to find out why. Merely going along to get along gets us exactly nowhere.

My fellow libertarians, let us never be ashamed to vote according to our own convictions. And never let us be duped into thinking that we’ve wasted our votes. We can march out of that voting booth with our heads held high. In fact, if we choose not to vote at all, we have every right to be equally proud — and, make no mistake about it, that option also lets our voices be heard.

We’re not the ones who need apologize for wasting our votes. A vote that says what we mean it to say — however cast — is the only kind that ever really matters. “Why are you wasting your vote?” I intend to ask my conformist friends. And if they don’t like being on the receiving end of that question for a change, they can just go jump into a sack full of kittens.

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I've had this argument with people every presidential election in the last quarter century at least.

Most people vote for "their" tribe/team/party, reflexively and always, and feel they've done their part to further the American way. Such votes are the joy of the big parties, because they know that they're always there (and can be cajoled simply by a bit of fear-mongering) and that they don't have to actually do a blessed thing those voters want in order to garner them in the future. Being a sure-thing vote is the best way to have your voice ignored. This is the great tragedy that the various demographic groups that are "locked in" to one party endure - they're paid little to no actual heed, just a lot of lip service.

Some people never vote, and make it known that they never vote. They're just as dismissible as those who vote for one party without fail.

It's only when they know your vote's in play that what you want matters. If you vote third-party, and enough others of a like mind do as well, the majors might take enough notice to actually pursue policies that might get them some of those votes next time.

Todd Brown

Those who assert the "wasted vote" argument, often with great vehemence, imagine that their one vote for one of the major parties can somehow sway the outcome of a Presidential election, and that your "wasted vote" could somehow upend it. Unless one is a Supreme Court Justice such a position is irrational.

The only rational reason to vote is as an act of political expression, which act if principled rather than based on an immoral motivation such as voting for the "lesser of two evils", could through conversation or in forums such as this from time to time convince that rare individual closer to your own point of view.

R R Schoettker

"The only rational reason to vote is as an act of political expression"

I agree, and this consists in my opinion as an opportunity to shout a resounding NO! in the States ear during every election.

As an anarchist I realized long ago that the vehicle of the State is the problem in social life and that who is "driving" it is a superfluous irrelevancy. As a result when I peruse the ballot I skip right over the list of candidates (none of whom would appear there unless they were vetted by political parties as safe for the status quo) and proceed to give my negative to ALL revenue measures that feed the beast as well as opposing all attempts to increase the State's power or usurp the prerogatives of civil society.

While I will defend myself with force if required, I will nevertheless not neglect any opportunity to exercise nonviolent means while they exist.


At least in voting for the President of the US, the authors of the Constitution foresaw the frustration that you feel, Lori. As originally constituted, voters would chose a State wide representative to present his or her views in the Electoral College. Thus, Lori Heine might run for the Electoral College in her State (Arizona?). She would compete with others in Goldwater Country to attend the meeting in Washington, DC to argue for a candidate of her choice, presumably having argued for this person during her campaign travels within her home State.

Voters would see "Lori Heine" listed on the Arizona presidential ballot. She would have spent her money and energy campaigning only within her State, rather than having to dilute her efforts with travel all about the US. Voters could meet with her pretty much on a person to person basis to hear her views. It was a great idea, the wisdom of which was too quickly abandoned.

Bruce Alan Martin

Unfortunately, Arizona is one of the 48 states in which election of Presidential Electors is corrupted by a statewide, "winner-takes-all" system. Only Maine and Nebraska preserve the original process whereby each Congressional District chooses one Elector to represent its Presidential preferences (as well as participating in the statewide choice of two additional electors).

In all states, the elected Electors convene in the STATE capital (NOT in Washington, DC) to argue, negotiate, etc. and then cast their electoral votes individually, for a specific candidate; however, in the 48 winner-take-all states, the winning slate of Electors usually votes, party-line, for the same, predetermined candidates.

Exacerbating this highly undemocratic process is the fact that there are so few Congressional Districts, ever since the number was capped at 435 a century ago, so that most CDs contain over 700,000 people -- rather than the original 30,000 or 50,000 or so that a "Representative in Congress" once represented. Consequently, today's CDs are so large that it is virtually impossible for a candidate (or Elector) to run meaningfully, without approval by the STATE party bosses (rather than just the local, county or town party leaders).

It has been nearly forgotten that the very first article of the Bill of Rights was intended to keep the House of Representatives "democratic" (SMALL "d") by ensuring that the districts would remain small.

Specifically, there was to be a somewhat logarithmic increase, with 30,000 per district until there were 100 Representatives, then 40,000 until 200, 50,000 until 300, etc. If that formula were to be extrapolated to today's population, the House would consist of about 1600 members, or about four times as many as now. (Of course, each would therefore need only 1/4 the staff, office space, costs, etc. since most would represent only 150,000 or so constituents! At present, the enormous powers of Congress are exercised by over 30,000 members and staffers -- only 535 of whom are actually elected; that's a far cry from the "democratic" lower house envisioned by our founders!)

The first article of the Bill of Rights was passed by 2/3 of both houses, but still awaits ratification by 3/4 of the states. If ratified, the intended (logarithmic) extrapolation would also need to be legislated, but it could lead to a far-more-representative Congress -- as well as far more representative Electors!

In Arizona, Lori could then run for election to become one of the 36 Electors who, along with two statewide Electors, would all caucus in Phoenix to debate, cast their individual Electoral votes, and transmit a list of all names and number of votes to Joe Biden (or whoever is else President of the Senate).

An end to the 48 winner-take-all scams would help even more!


P.S. In my state of New York, the names of Electors are not listed on the ballot (altho they used to be listed on paper write-in ballots until several years ago).
Nevertheless, I have been "implicitly" on the ballot in several Presidential elections (and explicitly on the signed petitions that achieved ballot status).

Alas, NY is also one of those 48 states where voters are deprived of the right to choose ONE elector for their own district, continuing to suffer under the insidious "winner-takes-all" perversion. Were this not so, there would be a much greater chance that local candidates could become Representatives in Congress (without permission from state party bosses), and that voters within my district could actually elect someone to represent our own district when the a Electoral College convenes on December 13th in Albany.

Greg Robbins

I always loved the argument, "But that candidate can't possibly win!" The implication is that you should only vote for a candidate who can win. Well, I live in California, and the only candidates that can possibly win are Democrats. The candidates running for the House, Senate, and Governorship don't even bother to campaign. And if they think you're not a Democrat, they don't answer your letters either.

California has the most idiotic voting system I've ever seen. The top two candidates that get the most votes in the primary are on the ballot for statewide election. So my choices are always between two Democrats! Forget about a third party, I don't even have a choice of a second one.


What is your response to people who suggest that the very act of voting lends a false legitimacy to an illegitimate process: winner takes all?

Lori Heine

I'd say that they are casting their vote by not voting. That is the way they express their convictions. Silence can be eloquent. But I would hope that they would also express their convictions in other ways, because if it's all that's offered, silence can be misunderstood.

Bob Straub

Thank you for writing what I have been thinking for many years.
Bob Straub.

S Bush

I'm not Libertarian, nor Republican or Democrat. I choose to remain independent as I vote for whoever most represents the views and issues I hold dear. A lot of the time I really have no one to vote for, and I end up only voting for state and local races, or on various propositions when they come up. A number of folks consider me a vote waster, but I really don't care what they think because, after all, it is MY vote to do with as I see fit. I'm seriously tired of everyone choosing between two evils and thinking they've done us all some good.

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