I am about to say something that will make my campaign manager need an aspirin, but: You should always vote for the candidate who YOU believe is the best choice for the office. Always. Even if it is an alternative-party candidate with little chance of winning the election.
Because…. Firstly, I am an idealist who believes that the world changes for the better when people are willing to stand up for what they believe in. And secondly, because if you vote for the candidate you believe will be the best choice for the office, then the politicians know what is important to you, and they know that you are willing to vote for it, and they will take your opinions into consideration. Vote for them, and they will assume you agree with them. Don’t vote at all, and no one will care what you think.
I know that many people will disagree with me about the role of alternative parties in our political system. I see them as a healthy expression of energized diverse political thought. Others not so much.
The real threat to our democracy, in terms of individual votes, isn’t alternative-party voters. It’s non-voters. In Tuesday’s special election, the Green party candidate received 1,127 votes. But fewer than 40% of registered voters cast a ballot. Hundreds of thousands of people chose not to express an opinion on yesterday’s election. They are our problem, not the energized and involved alternative-party voters.
Why don’t people exercise their right and duty to vote? Why do they allow other people to decide the vital question of who will represent them as their elected official? A democracy where it is typical for fewer than half of the registered voters to cast a ballot, is not a healthy democracy.
I know that people choose not to vote for many reasons. Some choose not to vote for religious reasons, and I believe that they should continue to follow their conscience. Many people are disenfranchised by our institutions, by moved and closed polling places, for example. We owe it to those folks to ensure that they have access to free and fair participation in democracy. We need to continually review and improve policies so that the mechanics of voting do not impede our citizens’ right to vote.
Beyond that, we need to figure out why so many other people simply do not participate in the foundational act of democracy. And then we need to fix that.
People tell me that their vote doesn’t matter. People tell me that all politicians are the same, and nothing will change no matter who they vote for. People tell me they are too busy.
Dear non-voters, none of this is true. Your vote does matter. Elections are being decided on the thinnest of margins. Politicians do differ, and the policies and laws you live under change noticeably depending on who is in office. You aren’t too busy. Most states have liberal early and absentee voting policies. If voting is a priority for you, you can fit it into your schedule.
Let’s stop shaming the active, interested, conscientious, energized, alternative-party voters. Let’s start addressing the challenge of turning non-voters into voters. That’s the key to a healthy, thriving democracy.
Grab your friends, grab your family, grab your neighbors…cajole, encourage, and exhort…tell them their country is depending on them, because it is. And if they choose to vote for an alternative-party candidate, stand proud even if you disagree with them. You just made democracy stronger.