This election has been one of the most passionate and divisive elections in recent memory, and that means that emotions are running high. Conservatives have found themselves with a less-than-ideal candidate for the past several election cycles. Even many liberals are not happy with Hillary Clinton’s nomination. Whenever this happens, the same dilemma comes up: Do I hold my nose and vote for the Republican/Democratic nominee, or do I vote for someone (third-party or write-in) who more closely represents my values? Inevitably, I see the same 3 illogical arguments used over and over again by both sides of the debate to justify how they vote. Such arguments are usually intended as a sort of trump card to end an argument, but in reality, do nothing more than end meaningful dialogue. Avoid these three voting fallacies.
#1 – “To not vote for candidate A is a vote for candidate B”
In other words, you hear this most commonly stated as, “To not vote for Trump is a vote for Clinton,” (or vice versa) or, “A vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Clinton/Trump,” depending on which side you’re on. This one annoys me not only for being illogical but it is a complete perversion of the English language. The way the preposition ‘for’ is usually used in the context of voting is to indicate support, desire, or purpose. You vote “for” someone in order to express your support of that person’s candidacy or their policies, your desire to see them elected, or for the purpose of electing that person. It is a non-sequitur (logical fallacy meaning “it doesn’t follow”) to say that, “A vote for candidate C is (=) a vote for candidate B,” when these two statements are not equal. A vote for a third-party candidate in no way indicates support, desire, or purposing to elect one of the two major-party candidates. That kind of language needs to stop. A vote for A is a vote for A; a vote for B is a vote for B; a vote for C is a vote for C. Nothing more and nothing less.
Now when you get to the bottom of this argument, what people really mean is, “A vote for a third-party candidate will help the least desirable candidate become elected over the less desirable (but more probable) candidate.” When this is understood properly, then we can have an actual conversation about whether this is true or not. The way I see it, the answer to that question is: it depends on which state you live in. We don’t live in a democracy where the person with the most votes wins. We live in a constitutional republic. The way elections work in our country, each state is allocated a certain number of delegates to the electoral college based on population. Whoever gets the most votes in that state is awarded all of that state’s delegates to the electoral college. Those delegates in the electoral college are the ones who actually elect the president. For example, in the 2000 election, even though Al Gore had a plurality of votes in the popular vote (total # of votes nationwide), George W. Bush won because he won in the electoral college.
So what’s the moral of the story? Essentially, if you live in a swing state like Ohio, Nevada, Florida, etc., then your vote for a third-party candidate (assuming they have no realistic chance of winning in the state) rather than for one of the 2 major candidates could potentially affect the outcome of your state’s election and who your state’s electoral delegates are awarded to. However, in a state like California (where I live), we know who will win the state. Barring extraordinary circumstances, it will go to Hillary Clinton, who is polling at over 50%. Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional. Even if Republicans and all the 3rd parties teamed up together, they still couldn’t beat her. So voting for a 3rd party candidate in one of these states will have no practical outworking one way or the other. The surprising oddity in this 2016 election is the state of Utah (and maybe New Mexico). In Utah, independent candidate Evan McMullin is in a virtual 3-way tie with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton according to the most recent polls. It will be interesting to see how things develop in the next few weeks, but this could be a legitimate opportunity to vote 3rd party and make a difference or make a statement.
You should consider the practical consequences of your vote. This doesn’t imply that it should be the overriding factor, but I would remind everyone that voting isn’t simply about “sticking to principle.” There are potential practical consequences to voting for a third-party candidate.
#2 – “I can’t vote for either of the two major candidates because I would be voting for the lesser of 2 evils, which is voting for evil.”
The basic fallacy of this line of thinking lies in the belief that there are “good” candidates and “evil” candidates. The Biblical standard for moral goodness is perfection, a quality which only God can have (Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19, Romans 3:12, 23). Every candidate, no matter how much you agree with them or how Christ-like they act, is imperfect on some level – a lesser evil if you will.
Now if you are defining good and evil more colloquially in terms of someone being a generally upstanding person or a generally corrupt person, then point taken. But, even if you are defining it in a looser sense, you still have to think about and justify a moral standard on which you are making such judgments. Even under such a system, there still is no perfect candidate with whom you will always agree (other than maybe yourself), and you will always be voting for someone less than your own perfect ideal.
We have to acknowledge that we live in a fallen and corrupt world with fallen and corrupted people and institutions. No one other than Christ, who is God, can rule and reign perfectly. And until he returns again to do that, our goal should be to put the best people in public office, not perfect people. Don’t pretend to claim a moral high ground over your fellow citizens because you are voting for a third-party candidate.
#3 “Voting for a 3rd-party candidate is a wasted vote.”
What does it mean to “waste” a vote? Merriam-Webster defines waste as, “a situation in which something valuable is not being used or is being used in a way that is not appropriate or effective.” Almost always, anyone who says you are “wasting your vote” is saying, “Voting for a third-party candidate won’t make any difference and could potentially help a worse candidate.” This, in effect, reduces the act of voting to solely its practical outworking. In truth, voting is primarily an act done out of principle and out of one’s value system. The question is really about whether your value system most highly prioritizes the practical outworking of the voting process, the moral character of a candidate, or the principles that they hold to. To simply respond with or blurt out, “You’re wasting your vote,” completely ignores (and even denigrates) the principles and convictions that other people prioritize more highly than you do when voting.
In Christian apologetics, you learn very quickly that one of the worst things you can do when trying to dialogue with someone of a different worldview is to either insult or denigrate that person for holding to certain beliefs, or, to insult or denigrate their beliefs and by implication insult or denigrate that person. Such an approach immediately puts that person in an emotionally and mentally defensive posture, making any meaningful dialogue after that nearly impossible. If I as a Christian were dialoguing with a Muslim and they were describing to me how they pray to Allah, would it ever be appropriate for me to say, “You’re wasting your breath praying to him because he is a false god”? No! This would only hurt that person, sully my witness as a Christian, and hinder any further opportunity I had to minister to them, even if it was technically a true statement. I don’t know why we think these rules change when we talk about politics.
So often, I hear people say to each other, “You’re wasting your vote by voting for that third party candidate.” This is not how we are called to act as Christians! As Christians, we are called to be able to offer a defense of our beliefs but to be able to do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). If someone is voting for a 3rd party candidate because they more highly value a person’s character or beliefs and you want to convince them otherwise, then talk to them. Engage with them in thoughtful discussion. But do not shut down the conversation with one-liners in an attempt to win an argument or (as I suspect in some cases) to try and make yourself feel better about your own voting decision. Examine your own heart to see what motivations are there and whether they should be there.
I haven’t made up my mind yet as to which principle I will most highly prioritize in my voting, whether it’s the practical outworkings or a candidate’s moral character or positions. But either way, in my opinion, the only way to truly waste your vote is to not vote at all.