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"Throwing your vote away"?

By Scott Tibbs, September 17, 2008

A letter to the editor in the September 14 Herald-Times brought a lot of criticism from Obama supporters, because a former Obama supporter said he would be voting for Cynthia McKinney. I think it is silly to vote for McKinney, an egomaniac who is known for assaulting a police officer and then getting thrown out of Congress by voters in her own party. There has to be someone who represents "progressive" ideas better than this woman. The issue of "throwing away your vote" deserves to be addressed, however.

If your party's candidate for President does not represent your views, or if you believe that your party's candidate for President has compromised too much, there is nothing wrong with casting a vote for a third party. The votes that go to Bob Barr (a former Republican member of Congress) or McKinney (a former Democratic member of Congress) are votes that McCain and Obama know they lost. Minor parties keep the major parties honest by letting them know they risk losing their base if they stray too far to the center.

Even if one could argue that voting for Barr or McKinney is a "wasted" vote, there are many other races on the ballot where each individual vote matters more. Over 121 million people voted for either George W. Bush or John Kerry four years ago, but the total number of votes for each Governor's race were much smaller. Races for U.S. House have a still smaller sample. Where each and every vote does matter is local government.

Whether or not I am "throwing my vote away" in the Presidential race, my vote matters much more in the race for Monroe County Surveyor where I will be voting for Vic Farkas. In a very close race for who will be representing Indiana's Ninth Congressional District, my vote for Mike Sodrel will matter much more than who I vote for at the top of the ticket. The same goes for races for Monroe County Council and Commissioner.

I do believe a vote is "wasted" when someone votes for a third party candidate when the major party candidate is with the conservative/liberal base the vast majority of the time. It is unwise (at best) to refrain from supporting a great major party candidate based on an unrealistic expectation for perfection. In those cases, it is best to support a candidate who may not be perfect, but is right most of the time.

I will write more, using a specific example, in the near future.