Originally published on the Star Tribune Blog.
Since I turned 18 in April of 2013, this will be the first presidential election I will be eligible to vote in. I have had numerous older relatives come up to me and say, “What a shame that this is the first election you get to vote in and these are the candidates we have to choose from!”. I hear daily sentiments of “Trump is a monster” and “Hillary is a liar”. Countless people tell me they are voting third party or not even at all because of the candidates and we seem to accept that that’s okay to do. Although I am frustrated with the candidates, frustrated with the two party system, and frustrated with the general negativity surrounding this election cycle – I will vote and I will vote for one of the two nominated candidates from major parties. It is essential because the structure of the American political system will not be changed by the outcome of this vote and voting for a third party is as good as not voting at all. If you cannot reason one candidate better than the other, vote for the one who will allow the most change and do the least damage.
Politics is practical. There are smoke and mirrors and eloquent (or not so eloquent) speeches but come November, all that matters is how many electoral college seats one candidate can win. Is this fair? Depends on who you ask. With the Debbie Wasserman Schultz scandal showcasing inside communications that unjustly favored one candidate over another it was a commonly held thought that it didn’t matter who you voted for since selection was rigged by the party from the beginning. The Bernie campaign was constantly reminded of Hillary’s iron grip on the majority of Democratic superdelegates. Superdelegates are the inner-core of the Democratic party, totalling 15% of the available delegates, and having free reign to pledge their vote to whomever they would like — no matter how their state votes. The Republicans have a similar term but their superdelegates must vote for the candidate their party votes for in the primaries. That disenchantment led to angry protests at the Democratic Convention, likes of which have not been seen in many cycles, leaving Democrats struggling to find a way to gather Bernie diehards into the fold. There is a great risk in losing Bernie-or-bust Democrats because a vote for anyone but Hillary, for someone who usually votes Democratic, is a positive for Trump. You may think I don’t understand basic arithmetic but with polls as tight as they are (Hillary at 45.9% and Trump at 43.8% according to Real Clear Politics’ average of recent polls before the debate), the winner of this election will come down to those who come out to vote for their particular candidate in swing states. If I am a Republican and I vote for Gary Johnson this year, Trump loses a vote he thought he would get. Victory in some states may come down to how many usual voters are too disenchanted to vote, how many choose an alternative individual or write-in, and how many non-voters candidates can rally to vote for them on November 8th.
Is a vote for anyone but a major candidate pointless? Yes. Gary Johnson or Jill Stein may seem like a great option for certain people, but they will never win mathematically. Some people argue that a vote for Johnson, Stein, or Sanders (write-in) is a “protest vote” to signify that the American people are sick and tired of corrupt politics that only allow two parties to give anyone a chance to be president. Unfortunately, this is not a protest vote because voting for a third party or writing in Bernie’s name will not instill change. It will not change anothers mind, it will not create awareness in the community, it will be a secret vote that will be discounted. Bernie Sanders did more than anyone else to bring light to the unfairness of the American voting system this cycle. He was vocal, he attracted thousands, and he publically displayed the barriers placed in-front of a non-party sweetheart though his losing campaign. He did more to enlighten voters to how little their vote matters than Gary Johnson and Jill Stein combined. Is America different now post-Bernie Sanders? Are Americans frustrated with who was elected, from both parties, and the process that allowed it to happen? I think yes, especially with young voters — the population most fixated on the Senator from Vermont. Change to our voting system will happen though attention-raising individuals and campaigns that will allow bottom-up change to take place in the the House and Senate where there is a higher likelihood that candidates with fresh mindsets will be voted into a position of power. This will not happen before November.
Hillary and Trump are the long-awaited candidate for a good portion of the population, tapping into minorities or the new ‘silent majority’, but many are disappointed in the outcome of both parties Conventions. Disenchantment in these candidates is widespread leading many to say they won’t vote for either Clinton or Trump. They each have their fair share of personal scandals, are both considered dishonest, and are rich, white residents of New York but that does not mean they are the same person. Your vote for one or the other matters more than it has in other cycles because of the proximity between candidates . Those who are disenchanted with our options must realize that a vote for the “least bad” is a vote that is necessary because of what the “worst” candidate would be able to do with power possessed. Is it morally permissible to vote for a president you do not support in order to avoid the other be elected? Maybe or maybe not but it is the practical thing to do. Politics is practical. Numbers add up.