Is Winning the Only Point of Voting?
Religion & Liberty Online

Is Winning the Only Point of Voting?


In an otherwise excellent post yesterday on how, of all things, politics in our (basically) two-party system actually brings together Americans like nothing else, Joe Carter ends with this addendum:

Addendum: Casting a “protest vote” for third-party candidates is essentially casting a vote for the party you like the least. For example, say you prefer the Democrats to the Republicans but choose to vote for the Green Party candidate. Since the Green candidate will not win, you vote effectively reduces the vote for the Democratic candidate (your second favorite choice) by one. Had you cast the vote that way, it would have offset a vote for the Republican.

On the one hand, I do not disagree that one should not be deluded about the chances of most (there have been exceptions) third party candidates. One must consider that, in fact, a third party vote is also a passive vote for “the party you like least.”

But, on the other hand, there are times where I can see this as more than a protest vote. As I wrote in 2012, third party votes are different than abstaining to vote altogether in that while the latter may at best be a form of protest, a purely negative act, the former is actually a vote for someone/something. Thus:

What about casting a vote for a third party candidate? In this case, I think it worth noting that the candidate’s chances of winning any particular election, while not unimportant, need not be the deciding factor. If any third party receives only 5% of the popular vote in any given election, it qualifies to receive federal matching funds for the next election. Doubling the campaign spending power of often ignored voices in our country’s political process is no small matter. If any party can manage to garner 15% support in national polls, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) lets its candidate into the national presidential debates. While I find this criteria unnecessarily high (15%) and somewhat arbitrary (polls? really? why not something more reliable like votes from the previous election?), this is nevertheless a goal worth striving for as well. Indeed, with 40% of voters saying that they are dissatisfied with Obama and Romney, there is room for other perspectives, both from the left and the right, including, of course, Christian voters. Thus, casting a “lesser of two evils” vote for either of the two major parties’ candidate has a cost of its own.

Joe Carter seems to be saying that even if one is dissatisfied with the candidates for a given office from both the Democrats and the Republicans, that person should still vote for the “lesser of two evils,” or “Beelzebub rather than Lucifer,” as he put it. Certainly, he is correct that not voting for either does not exempt one from facing the consequences of that choice.

However, if one honestly views the two dominant parties’ candidates as incommensurable “evils” and wants a third perspective to get more attention, why is that not a justifiable choice? It is only unjustifiable if winning the election is the only point of voting.

But is it? If one faces the unrealistic prospects of a third party candidate winning and yet believes that voting for the third party choice is worthwhile for the sake of, for example, the real possibility of gaining federal matching funds for the next election, I fail to see why that wouldn’t be a justifiable choice.

Dylan Pahman

Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he serves as executive editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He earned his MTS in historical theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to his work as an editor, Dylan has authored several peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, essays, and one book: Foundations of a Free & Virtuous Society (Acton Institute, 2017). He has also lectured on a wide variety of topics, including Orthodox Christian social thought, the history of Christian monastic enterprise, the Reformed statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper, and academic publishing, among others.