Attention Must Be Paid: The Joys of Third-Party Voting

Conventional wisdom has it that voting is a waste of time, and third-party voting, even worse. Voting is a waste of time because a single vote can’t change the outcome of an election, and third-party voting is worse because third parties have no chance of winning elections in the US.

Well. From The New York Times, Wednesday, November 3rd around 8:40 pm.


Though the outcome of the New Jersey gubernatorial election is still up for grabs, I would say that regardless of who won, conventional wisdom got its face slapped. As I write on Wednesday night, it appears as though Democrat Phil Murphy has won the election. But if he did, he won by a razor sharp margin. According to current reporting, with 90% of the votes counted, Murphy appears to have won by fewer than 20,000 votes (about 19,440 votes). That’s about the number of votes garnered by the third party candidates taken together.

If the current loser of the election had secured all of those third party votes (about 18,098 votes), he’d have come close to swallowing the margin currently being enjoyed by the putative winner. More plausibly, any candidate who’d secured the votes of a coherent ideological chunk of third-party voters–some combination of Green and Libertarian or Green and Socialist blocs, each numbering about 10,000 votes–would at least have purchased himself a comfortable bit of electoral leverage. No matter how you slice it, the third-party votes were a valuable commodity squandered by both candidates.


The lesson here should be clear. Sometimes elections are close. Sometimes, they’re very close. In cases like that, third-party votes can matter. From one (inane) perspective, third-party votes “spoil” the election for the candidate who was “supposed to” or “fated” to win. From another perspective, they send a message to more conventionally-minded candidates and voters:

Wake up.  The Republican/Democrat dichotomy is not to be taken for granted. We’re not to be taken for granted. Had you won our votes, you wouldn’t be crapping in your pants about the outcome of the election. You thought you could take us for granted, but you can’t.

I voted Green in this election. My candidate got a mere 7,511 votes, substantially less than 1% of the total number of votes cast.  Murphy wrote off the Greens, Socialists, and Libertarians who might otherwise have voted for him. Ciatterelli wrote off the Libertarians who might have voted for him. Maybe next time, mainstream Republicans and Democratics will remember that we third-party voters wrote them off, too. The more we’re prepared to do that, the more attention they’ll have to pay. Not a bad pay-off for filling an oval with some ink, putting a piece of paper in an envelope, and sliding it into a mailbox along with 7,510 of one’s friends.

So join the party. It’s more fun than you might realize to watch the power elite squirm.

5 thoughts on “Attention Must Be Paid: The Joys of Third-Party Voting

  1. If there were a Green/Libertarian fusion candidate, I might be tempted to return to voting. I doubt I’d be successfully tempted, but at least it’d be an option that might not turn my stomach. The LP has just gotten too toxic for me lately.

    Liked by 3 people

    • So you’d vote for Gus diZerega?

      Apart from the possibility of such a fusionist candidate, why not vote NOTA or some such ballot-spoiling expedient? You could even vote, “Non-Existent Green-Libertarian Fusion Candidate.” (You might have to abbreviate a bit.) Or you could vote, “Fuck the State!” Or whatever.

      Those messages all accurately represent your view (more or less), and voting them literally makes your view count. If a large enough number of people could be convinced to vote that way, NOTA votes could become a voting bloc that played something like the role that third-party votes play in very close elections. Even if you think that a single vote gets “lost” in the volume of national or state-level votes, that’s not always true of local elections. In some towns, school board elections involve mere hundreds or even dozens of votes. Likewise for town council. But lots of politically interesting stuff happens at that level.

      Though generalizations are hazardous, mail-in voting is now a relatively cheap and easy affair. At least where I live, the ballot is mailed to you months in advance of Election Day, you fill the ballot in at your leisure, and mail it without having to spend on postage. It’s only slightly more difficult than circulating a member or taking an online poll, which people think nothing of doing. But then, it’s slightly more consequential.


  2. “So you’d vote for Gus diZerega?”

    He thinks democracies aren’t states but are instead spontaneous orders. Trop étrange pour moi.


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