Scott Hardie | August 7, 2016
What is your take on voting third party? I've heard it said that you have a moral obligation to vote for the other party if you believe one of the two major parties has nominated a dangerous person for office, and I don't quite buy that, because I think there's more to voting than that. But I'm curious whether and why you would vote third party, and what your feelings are on the subject in general.

Chris Lemler | August 7, 2016
I think it would be better if you didn't like either of the candidates

Samir Mehta | August 10, 2016
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Scott Hardie | August 13, 2016
Agreed. The third parties tend to focus on the presidency because it's their best chance to get attention for their causes, especially this year. But they might have more electoral success focusing on smaller races, especially in heavily partisan areas.

I think Erik and I discussed this before, but I heard that in Germany and some other countries, you aren't represented according to geographic district, and you don't elect a person. You cast a vote for the party that you prefer, and each party gets a number of seats in the government body that's proportionate to how many people voted for that party. I can see potential for all kinds of problems with that system, but if nothing else, it does open the door to a wider spectrum of positions and ideas than our rigidly binary system, and compromise is more likely because of the need for multiple parties to work together at once to accomplish anything.

If the Libertarian or Green parties could act more mature and mainstream, they might gain some traction this year of Trump vs Clinton. But their positions are as extreme as ever. I don't think they even know how to pretend to be mainstream.

Scott Hardie | November 1, 2016
Today I read a very insulting and very wrong article on this subject. Setting aside the rude tone of some of the writing, which treats third-party voters like ill-informed morons, the article makes several points that I consider incorrect:

Your favorite third party candidate is never, ever going to win.
Well, they certainly aren't if nobody votes for them! It is essential to the nature of democratic elections that any candidate can possibly win. One candidate being very unlikely to win does not and should not render them unworthy of receiving votes. Besides, there are all kinds of reasons to vote for a candidate besides simply choosing the winner, from personal satisfaction, to a sense of moral obligation, to trying to reach a minimum threshold to unlock public funds for that tiny party.

You can "send a message" by voting third party, but our system cannot receive that message or compute that input.
Bullshit. Ross Perot did not win a single electoral vote, but he did get 19% of the popular vote, which means 19% of the voting public in 1992 did not want either George Bush or Bill Clinton to be president. That's a very large number of people, and the "message" of dissatisfaction that they sent was heard loud and clear. The candidates and parties adjusted their policies accordingly. The media and the country discussed Perot's initiatives. The Reform Party was founded. This is not nothing.

If you wanted to vote against Trump and Hillary, you should have done it during the primary campaign.
Not if you're truly dedicated to the cause of a third party and registered with them, and you live in a state with closed primaries.

American voters themselves have to make compromises during the party primary campaigns and at the ballot box on Election Day to decide what they're willing to accept from the two broad mainstream political parties.
Again, bullshit. Parties have come and gone in this country. The 1796 election was between John Adams of the Federalist party and Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republican party. The Whig Party gave us Presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor. Today's fringe third party can be one of tomorrow's two major parties, but not without support.

Your "protest vote" goes in vain if a candidate you hate most ultimately gets elected.
I have come to despise this very prejudiced line of reasoning. You assume that if I'm liberal, I would hate Trump being in office much more than Clinton, so I shouldn't waste my vote on Stein. Don't assume so much. Maybe I despise Clinton just as much as Trump. Maybe I cannot stomach the thought of voting for either one. Or maybe, just maybe, I have an honest preference for Stein and my preference is as legitimate as your preference for Clinton. Try to look past your own wants for a minute.

in 1992, lots of people who might otherwise have voted for George H.W. Bush voted for Ross Perot instead—as a result, Bill Clinton got elected.
Wrong.

Instead of casting a futile protest vote for a third party candidate in the hope that your abstention from the two-party system will somehow motivate the two major parties to change, you should work within a party to change the system from within.
The Founding Fathers did not write into the Constitution that citizens should actively participate in political parties. They wrote into the Constitution that we would vote in elections. You get involved in your party if you want, and I'll get involved in mine if I want, but my right to have a say in my government is still inalienable.

Democracy is about more than just voting every four years; it's about having an ongoing stance of vigilant activism and awareness. It's about organizing groups of people to create social change and work toward common goals. It's about raising money and knocking on doors and making phone calls and having tough conversations with people you don't even know, because you believe in the cause strongly enough to take time out of your day to make it happen.
Oops, I forgot, only the major parties do this. Third parties don't actually do any of the above. They just wish, I guess.

Not voting makes yourself invisible to the democratic system. Not voting is a surrender of constitutional rights that lots of good people suffered and died for you to have.
Agreed! Democracy is wonderful! Do you know what would be undemocratic? Having only two options on the ballot and no ability to try to get more options on there! Having no real freedom and being forced to choose between only two options favored by the "cynical elites and corrupt special interests."

This smug, insulting article is so bad that I want to go out and vote third party just to spite the author. See, there are all kinds of reasons to vote third party!

What it comes down to for me is that voting is one of America's most essential freedoms, and it isn't really freedom if you don't really get to vote the way that you want. I don't support Donald Trump in the least, but I definitely support anyone's right to vote for Trump if that's their preference. I cannot offer that support and not also offer the same full support for someone to vote third-party if that's their wish. If you want to bypass parties altogether and write in someone awful like, I don't know, Martin Shkreli on your ballot, then your preference is no less important than mine or anyone else's, win or lose. To paraphrase Voltaire (or a quote often misattributed to him), I may disagree with your third-party vote, but I will fight to death to defend your right to cast it.

Samir Mehta | November 1, 2016
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Scott Hardie | November 3, 2016
I don't know. That sort of flaw is built into the system, isn't it? If enough people want that awful candidate to win, shouldn't the people get what they want? It's not really a democracy otherwise.

I should clarify about my long rant above that by "third party" I mean "party that is not Democratic or Republican." I do not believe that three or more parties will simultaneously hold power for very long in this country; we are indeed not set up for that. There will be no "third party" in that sense of the word. But I do believe that any party that is currently on the outside -- Constitution, Libertarian, Green, Reform, you name it -- could grow in influence and someday become one of the two major parties, displacing either the Democratic Party or Republican Party. It's certainly unlikely, but it's possible.

Samir Mehta | November 3, 2016
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Scott Hardie | November 6, 2016
Good point. I didn't factor turnout into that answer. I typically reject arguments that the people's electoral will should be overturned and managed by people who know better, whether that's something real like the the Electoral College or something imaginary like the Illuminati. But there are always nut jobs on the ballot, and in cases where only a relative handful of voters turn up and vote, it is indeed tough to make a moral case for said nut job to be free to carry out the "voters' will."

As for the first question, assuming it's not a case where the government has manufactured "the will of the people" with a fake election outcome and/or a campaign of misinformation, and a significant majority of voters really does support committing a national atrocity like another Holocaust, and existing laws were insufficient to prevent the atrocity from being carried out by the rulers, then I'd say the best option is probably dissolution of the nation. Let it be reformed as a smaller set of states that wouldn't have the power to do so much harm together, hopefully with better national values this time.

Should I infer from your question that you support overruling the will of voters in certain specific scenarios, or are you just asking academically?

Samir Mehta | November 6, 2016
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Aaron Shurtleff | November 6, 2016
This conversation is way over my head, but I am especially unclear on one point. It is probably that I am missing something.

If you have the choice to vote, and you choose not to vote, then I think you have made very clear that you don't care about the outcome of that vote, so I don't see how low voter turn out even remotely factors into questions on the "will of the people". If you care, vote. If you don't vote, you obviously don't care. Honestly, do you think Trump or Hillary (or any other candidate throughout history) really frets over people who don't vote? (Except of course, for when they want to say that those people voting would have won them the election if they lost) Why should they?

But, I think, in and of itself, any concept of "the people's will" is a vague and fluid concept. It means whatever the person using it interprets it to mean, and it changes constantly.

Scott Hardie | November 6, 2016
Hmm, interesting. I thought I had heard that voter turnout was low for most U.S. elections, around 20-40%, and I was prepared to ask whether a majority of people not voting meant that a majority of people did not want a democratic government. But relative to the proportion of the population that can vote, turnout is high, at least in presidential elections.

I don't know that not voting definitely means not caring. Besides people who are simply incapacitated and cannot vote in time, there are people who pointedly refuse all available options, and people who are too busy with their lives to realize that an election is happening (unfathomable for president but understandable for state-level and local-level races). But it's definitely true that politicians spend little time caring about people who don't vote for them, and especially about people who don't bother to vote at all. You as a citizen have far more to gain by voting than by not, even if you don't particularly like any of the candidates on the ballot.

Samir Mehta | November 7, 2016
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