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Do 3rd party votes count? Of course they do!

Green Party Candidate, Jill Stein

This post was prompted by a question that bellecat left in the last thread:

I’ve seriously thinking for months to give my vote to the Green Party-Jill Stein; after all I’m an environmentalist and for clean energy.
But I keep reading that her votes -since there’s not chance of winning, will go automatically to Obama. It’s that true? What are your thoughts?

 

Justice Party Candidate, Rocky Anderson

There may be some confusion here about the concept of “winner take all” but I’ll get to that in a moment.

I’m not sure who is spreading this misinformation but you can never rule out motivated party operatives (either party) who are paid to write it.

There’s a very good reason why this is misinformation and obviously untrue.  If it were true that a major party could just reassign third party votes to its nominee, then Al Gore would have won the presidency in 2000.  Want a more recent example?  Jon Corzine lost to Chris Christie in 2009 because some of us New Jerseyans voted for Chris Daggett, an independent candidate.  Daggett collected about 5% of the votes (and I’m convinced that those votes came from Democrats, not Republicans).  Nevertheless, Daggett’s votes counted and Christie won.  If they had not, Corzine would have been losing New Jersey’s money today, not MF Global’s.

If the party is recognized by your state and has a ballot position for its candidate, the votes that candidate gets are going to count.  It might be a different story if you are writing in a name of a politician who is from the same party as the party’s official nominee.  We noted in 2008 that this happens in some states.  That’s why Joe Lieberman ran as an Independent Democrat in 2006.  It’s because he couldn’t run against his party’s official nominee on the same party ticket.  If you were planning to write in Hillary’s name for president, that vote might be converted to a vote for the party’s official nominee in some places. So, we recommended that voters check their local and state laws to see what would happen in that case.

Now, is it possible that a third party candidate like Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson can win?  Anything is possible but it’s not probable.  Some people will think they’re throwing their votes away and if they want to be chicken shit cowards, there’s nothing you can do to stop them from going along with the crowd, voting for one of the major party candidates and they whining afterwards that there’s never any choice.  But there are good reasons why a third party vote can still make a difference and why more Americans should vote third party instead of acting like two year olds who can’t defer their desire for instant gratification.

1.) The more votes a third party gets, the greater the chances that it will be taken seriously some day in the future. This is what happened to Canada’s New Democratic Party. It came out of virtually nowhere a couple of years ago to displace the Liberals from the second spot in opposition to the Conservatives.  And the Pirate party has made a strong showing in Germany, surprising even the Pirates themselves.  So, the major parties might be dominant now but you never know what’s going to happen a couple of years from now.

2.) Once a third party is firmly established, there’s an opportunity for some of them to run for downticket offices.  The introduction of a third party of significant critical mass in Congress may help break our gridlocked government.  The parties would have to realign themselves somewhat and make deals with other party alternatives.  This is what has happened internally with the Republican party with the introduction of the Tea Party candidates.  The Republican party has found itself having to negotiate and pander to them.  What we need is a similar voting block to the left of the Democrats.  And when I say “left”, I don’t mean commie left or treehugger left.  It just has to be noticeably left of the Democrats as they are now, which is essentially a moderately conservative party.

3.) You CAN influence the current election even if your third party candidate doesn’t win.  Like I pointed out before, Al Gore and Jon Corzine both lost support when their voters turned to third parties.  If there are enough voters choosing this option, the losing party might start taking a cold hard look at what it will take to win those voters back.  Just be sure you send the right message.  If you desert the Democrats out of anger and go to the Republican side or a right of center candidate, the party analysts are going to think you want more conservative politics.  They won’t see it as righteous indignation.  You don’t have to vote for your ideological enemies in order to punish the party you align yourself with most closely.  Vote as close as you can to your ideological allies and your party will eventually buy a clue.

Now, let’s say you vote third party and the Democrat still wins the popular vote in your state.  In most states of the union, the rule to convert the popular vote to the electoral college vote is “winner take all”.  So, if Obama won most of the popular votes in your state, he would take all of the electoral college representatives.  But he wouldn’t be singling out third party votes, he’d be taking the Republican voters’ votes as well.  It must suck to be a Republican in California or New York but that’s how it works.

But what if you live in a swing state or what if the polls remain very close all the way to election day?  If you live in a state that has a third party on the ballot, your vote could count quite a bit.  Because if you siphon away enough popular votes from one of the candidates, you could throw all of the electoral college votes to his opponent.  Some people call this a spoiler.  I think it depends on what your goal is.  I’m not sure that Nader had a legitimate case in 2000 but anyone who doesn’t like the way the Democrats have gone in the past two election cycles should feel free to express their displeasure.  If the Democrats want to avoid this scenario, they had better get on the stick and start courting the potential defectors toot sweet.  I’d be worried if I were the Democrats right now.  It’s not the Republican or independent voters they have to fear.  It is their own base that might defect from them that should be a major concern.

Let your conscience be your guide.  At this point, I don’t think it matters too much who occupies the White House.  It might be an issue if one of the Supreme Court justices retires or dies but not because of Roe v Wade. It’s because the president might appoint a more Wall Street/deregulation friendly justice and at this point, either president could do that.  I’m in favor of electing more Democrats to Congress because that might be helpful.  Then again, the Democratic party tends to suck all of the flavor out of the downticket candidates so, do the best you can.

But I think whoever is telling us that third party votes will be handed over to Obama is conflating the popular vote with the electoral college vote.  Your vote WILL count. Vote strategically.

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