Thursday, August 16, 2007

Liberal Seagull's Four Truths About Voting

  1. Third parties are irrelevant (except as spoilers).

    The nature of the U.S. electoral system is to create two-party rule. In the case of Presidential elections, this is simply a function of how voting works -- two candidates with similar ideologies will split the vote, causing the remaining candidate to get a plurality and take the election. This same principle operates in Congressional elections, as well -- with the added feature that the rare independent or third-party candidate who does manage to get elected will have to caucus with one of the two major parties in order to accomplish anything. This is because of the committees, where much of the work of legislating actually gets done, and which the two major parties divide up based on who currently has a majority.

    Voting for a third party as a protest vote is easy, and feels good. Since your candidate has no chance of winning, no matter what happens you get to disclaim any responsibility by saying, "don't blame me -- I voted for the other guy!" In the end, however, it really only helps the candidate that least reflects your views.

  2. Change comes from within.

    So if voting for third parties is ineffective, what can you do? Work within one of the existing parties. Write letters. Make phone calls. Donate money to primary candidates you like. This is a lot more work than voting for a third party, but it can accomplish so much more.

    The actions of conservatives can be instructive, here. When they didn't like the Immigration Reform Bill, they didn't go off in a huff and vow to vote for the Constitution Party. They wrote letters and made phone calls to Republican politicians, and they got results -- within a week or two that bill wasn't just dead, it was radioactive.

  3. Politics is a game of numbers.

    To accomplish anything in the House, a party needs a majority. To accomplish anything in the Senate, a party needs 60 votes. (If they have a truly hostile President to overcome, they might need a two-thirds supermajority in both houses.) If these thresholds aren't reached, it doesn't matter much how ideologically pure and united they are; nothing will get accomplished without significant compromises. For that reason, sometimes it's necessary to hold your nose and vote for someone you don't like in the general election, just because it'll nudge the party you prefer closer to those magic numbers. No one likes doing this, but sometimes it's the lesser of two evils. And...

  4. It's always the lesser of two evils.

    Unless you're voting for yourself, there isn't a politician out there you won't disagree with on some issues. Representative democracy is about picking the person who will best represent your interests out of the choices available; it accomplishes nothing to hold out for perfection.

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