Why You Should Vote

…And why you shouldn’t vote third party.

As we draw nearer to the end of the 2016 presidential race (26 days!!), I’m seeing more and more people begging others on social media to be sure to vote this year. Despite that, I still know a staggering number of people who don’t plan to vote and who haven’t been able to give me a legitimate reason why not – usually just that they don’t like either candidate and don’t think it’s worth it.

If you ask me, that’s a bunch of bull. Women in the United States have only been able to vote since 1920 – that’s less than 100 years ago. Most Black Americans in the South weren’t even registered to vote until the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and since then we still have problems with racist bigots in certain jurisdictions trying to keep minorities away from the ballot box. Some countries still don’t allow all of their citizens to vote, and others don’t even have elections at all. As an American, it’s your civic duty to vote – that’s the entire reason that our country was even founded in the first place! Ok, that’s a bit of a stretch, but “no taxation without representation” sounds a lot like “please let us have a say in the governing body making our nation’s laws” if you ask me. Actively choosing to not take part in US elections is absolutely taking for granted the fact that we have any say at all, especially when you consider how many levels of government we vote on – from city council and county commissioner all the way up the the United States Congress and President (which is why you should also always vote in the off-year elections, but that’s an argument for a less stressful presidential race).

On top of the basic reason that you should vote simply because you have the ability to do so, you should also vote in this election because look at who the candidates are. I know that a lot of people don’t like either candidate and I know that Hillary has done a lot of shady things that have caused some of the public not to trust her, but look at the alternative – and I don’t mean the third party. The United States government is based on a two party system because for as much as conservatives like to say that we should base our country on the perceived beliefs of the founding fathers, we completely ignored George Washington’s warning against factions. However, we do still use the electoral system put in place by the founding fathers – the electoral college.

The founding fathers believed that the general public was too ignorant to be able to cast an informed vote in major elections, so rather than allowing for direct popular elections, they instituted the electoral college system. Each state has a certain amount of electoral votes depending on population, and a candidate needs to win 270 of the total 538 electoral votes to become president. As each state gets a certain amount of votes, each political party has a corresponding number of electors who will cast their electoral college vote. When you go to the polls in November and cast your vote for president, you’re really voting on which political party gets to send its electors to vote for president. 48 of the 50 states are “winner take all” in the electoral college, meaning whichever candidate gets the majority vote in a state gets all of that state’s electoral votes – meaning the candidate who wins in California gets a whopping 55 votes and the winner from Vermont only gets 3.

This is why people say that voting third party will “take votes away” from a major party candidate – they don’t mean your personal vote. If you were never going to vote for that person, they obviously never had your vote anyway. The problem with “taking votes away” comes in when a popular third party candidate “splits the ticket” – or when people in a certain state who might normally have voted for one of the two major parties choose to vote for the third party instead. This almost always results in the other major party getting that state’s electoral votes. That’s exactly how George W. Bush was elected president in 2000. Al Gore actually won the popular vote across the US, but enough people in certain states voted for Ralph Nader and the Green Party that Bush managed to get more electoral votes than Gore.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a discussion about political parties in the US in which people argue that if only enough people would vote third party, then we’d actually be able to have more than two major candidates to vote on in the future. I’m not saying that that kind of optimism is totally misplaced, but what it really comes down to is that even if enough people were inspired to get out there and vote third party, it would only further cement the Democratic and Republican parties in their love of the electoral college – the more people who break away and vote third party, the more likely it is that the other candidate will win the election. In order to really have a political party revolution, we need to get rid of the electoral college first.

Many people who hate both major candidates seem to already know this, and rather than “wasting their vote” on a third party candidate, they choose to not vote at all as a form of protest. THIS IS NOT AN EFFECTIVE FORM OF PROTEST. It doesn’t matter if the people who don’t care about either candidate don’t vote, because the people who are total die-hards for a specific candidate will absolutely be out there at 8 am on election day, ready to cast their vote for the reincarnated devil of their choice, and in my experience they tend to be on the more conservative side while those who refuse to vote are more liberal. By not voting, you’re just making it easier for the greater of two evils to win the election.

This is what it really comes down to. Choosing not to vote is actively allowing someone who you did not choose to create policy that could determine the future course of your life – especially if they manage to get elected during a time period when there are openings on the Supreme Court. I know that it’s hard to pick when neither candidate seems right for the job, but wouldn’t you rather have your vote associated with someone who you might not entirely agree with than know that your next four to eight years will be lived under someone who you didn’t have a say in at all?

If you haven’t registered to vote yet, the last date to register online in Maryland and West Virginia is October 18th and in Virginia is October 17th. Don’t forget to request your absentee ballot!