BY FRANCIS MCKANE '17
People who plan to vote for third party candidates, such as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, are often told their votes are wasted, but not all votes are equal. Within the electoral college system, voters in swing states have a greater influence over the outcome of the election than voters in decided states. Decided states, such as New York, California, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Alabama lean so heavily Democratic or Republican that they are considered uncompetitive. Swing states, such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia, are where candidates focus their energies instead.
Voters in decided states who vote for third party candidates need not worry that it would be their fault if Trump were to be elected. In a state like New York, for example, if all the people who voted in the primary vote in the general election, and every vote that went to Bernie Sanders were to go to Jill Stein, Hillary Clinton would still beat Donald Trump and win all 31 of the state’s electoral points. The situation is similar in states where Trump is guaranteed to win, like Texas and Indiana.
Since votes cast in swing states have a far greater influence on the outcome of the election, swing states are seen as dangerous places to vote for third party candidates. Many people blame Ralph Nader for the results of the 2000 election because the margin between Gore and Bush was close enough that if Nader’s voters had voted for Gore, he would’ve won the state. Some make the argument that those votes likely would have gone to Gore had Nader not been in the race. This, however, assumes that Nader’s voters would’ve voted at all had he not been in the race, which is not a given. People focus on the votes that went to Nader so that they can make the argument that third party votes are not only wasted, but are also harmful.
What about the millions of voters who actually voted for Bush? Aren’t they the ones ultimately responsible for electing him? When Gore was campaigning in Florida he wasn’t trying to win over far left Green Party voters, he was trying to win over the middle of the electorate swing voters and he failed to do so. Nader should be lauded for doing so well — better than any Green Party candidate has done since not derided for stealing votes. No politician deserves a single vote, they must earn them, and Gore did not earn enough votes to win the presidency. Gore didn’t even win his home state of Tennessee in the 2000 election; if he had, he wouldn’t have needed to win Florida’s electoral points. At the end of the day, the only person responsible for losing the 2000 election is Al Gore. If Hillary Clinton loses in November, the only person responsible will be Hillary Clinton. With that being said, a Trump presidency would be a national emergency and pre- venting it is more important than arguing over whose fault it would be.
In swing states, voting for third party candidates is risky. In decided states, third party votes help to grow and fuel third parties. When third parties do nominally well they gain more election privileges. For example, the Green Party no longer has to petition to be on the ballot in New York State because Nader received 5% of the popular vote there in 2000. Only by repeatedly losing well can a third party hope to someday win. Even if a third party never wins, they can still influence the platforms of the two major parties by giving a voice to those on the fringes of the political landscape.
Ultimately, a person’s vote doesn’t belong to anyone but themselves and it’s wrong to vilify any voter that actually manages to make it to the polls, considering how many Americans do not vote at all. But swing state voters are faced with a different choice than voters in decided states. Third parties should not be dismissed as spoilers outright, rather voters should understand the electoral college system well enough that their votes are informed ones.