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No More Wasted Votes, Poisoned Elections

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Who to blame for the Trump win? I mean, who to praise?

What do I mean?

The blamers are out in force, of course. Hillary Clinton’s concession speech was barely uttered before the Twitterstorm was unleashed upon those who voted for the Green and Libertarian Party presidential candidates.


And at least one blogger — on Rachel Maddow’s site, actually — provided a mourning/morning-after post-mortem that looked at returns. Aiming to determine the costs to Mrs. Clinton of wayward Jill Stein and Gary Johnson voters, he perused four key states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. In the first two states, had all the Green Party supporters voted, instead, for Hillary, along with half of Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson’s voters, the states would have flipped to the Democratic candidate. (Precisely what happened to the other half of Johnson’s voters is never stated. Apparently, in this campaign-change modeling, they either voted for Johnson or didn’t vote, but of course none went over to Mr. Trump.)

Still, for Wisconsin and Michigan, Libertarian help was not even required: Jill Stein’s votes made the difference. All it would have taken to change the outcome of the election was a change of heart — presumably for the better, in Clinton supporters’ judgments — upon the part of a few thousand minor party voters.

In a mere four states, “third-party voters had an enormous, Nader-like impact — had those states gone the other way, Clinton would be president-elect today, not Trump.”

Now, I understand: where’s the downside? No Hillary! (Just revel in that for a moment.) But it is worth noting that minor party runs have cost both major parties in the past. Everybody knows that Nader’s run cost Al Gore the 2000 election, but analysis of some 1990s races has indicated that Libertarians have cost the GOP several U. S. Senator bids.


The minor parties are a double threat!

In response to this, major-party mavens normally just crank up the “wasted vote” rhetoric. But the trouble with minor parties in our current electoral environment is bigger than that. For people who actually stand for something, voting for a minor party candidate makes the “best the enemy of the good,” turning the votes of the most dedicated policy and values voters not into waste, but poison.

What the Republicans and Democrats face is a loyalty drain: the voters who are most dedicated to some of the core principles that the respective major parties say they stand for do not contribute to their “practical party” but instead feed the opposition. A progressive’s vote for the Green Party undermines Democratic Party efforts; a conservative’s vote for the Libertarian undermines the GOP’s.

If you dislike both parties, you may smirk an evil little grin about now. I know the temptation. But the effects of poisoned votes are far-reaching, worth thinking about.

For instance, consider the trap voters find themselves in: If being dedicated to substantive political ideas turns out to work against those ideas the more one becomes dedicated, that decreases dedication. And that lessens the importance of ideas in the major parties, making the parties more subject to blatant interest group power and culture war issues.

No wonder we are at such a political impasse.

But it gets worse. Not only are folks discouraged from rigorous thinking and loyalty to principle, we are encouraged to deny our own preferences. A practical person does not want to waste his vote — or use her vote to poison the cause. So that person compromises. And the compromise candidates get the loyalty. Which then alienates the voter from his own emotions and passions and twists them into tribal warriors, prone to groupthink.


It’scalled preference falsification. And it is the poison you swallow as soon as you aim not to poison your cause with your preferred vote. You start out not wanting to poison the outcome, and you end by poisoning your soul.

The way the system sets up the incentives to think and act against our own ideals and interests leads us, as if by an invisible hand, to degradation and folly.

Is there a way out? Yes.

On the same election day that proved minor parties a thorn in the side of the big player parties, the voters of Maine showed the way to cut ourselves out of the trap. Voting for Question 5, a majority of Maine citizens have established “ranked choice voting.”

That is a kind voting whereinyou mark on your ballot a ranking of the candidates: first choice, second choice, etc. If your first choice for president was Gary Johnson, but your second was Hillary (or the current president-elect), and on the first count of votes Gary gets a small minority, the vote counters go back to your ballot and place your second-ranked vote in the bucket for that candidate. It is like holding a runoff election, without the expense of a second election.

The upshot is simple, though: it means that one does not “waste” one’s vote when expressing one’s less-than-most-popular preference. And no poisoning, either, because your second-choice party or candidate gets your vote when it matters.

The consequences?

First, voters would be encouraged not to go through the arduous process of agonizing over their actual preferences and choice of vote. No longer lying to themselves, they would approach an election with less anguish and perhaps more reason. No need to second-guess others’ votes, fruitlessly “strategizing.”


Second, the major parties would retain more votes from the most radical or honorable or knowledgeable activists in their wheelhouse.

Third, the minor parties would see growth, and eventually be able to prove the mettle of their ideas without the ugly play of internecine political warfare.

Lastly, we may all become a little less insistent and hysterical about our factions, which could, just possibly, lead to more civil debate.

Come, let us reason together: institute ranked choice voting.


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