Saturday, October 18, 2008

Casting the Winning Vote

In the last two presidential elections, there were some spoilers from third parties. For example, many of you have heard of Ralph Nader, who has run his campaign from a variety of parties and platforms. As he ran against Bush and Kerry, he received a lot of criticism for dividing the Demcratic vote. But he had every right to run.

I also remember Richard Boddie from the Libertarian party when he ran against an Orange County Republican Bob Dornan for a seat in the House. He drew enough votes from the Republicans to allow a victory for Loretta Sanchez. Not only that, but he went to the local Republican Convention to pass out fliers promoting himself for office while bragging about what he did to split the Republican vote from Dornan. Ha, ha. For this year, here's an interesting story about Bob Barr that you might like, too.

Yesterday, I went to the registrar of voters to verify my registration to vote. And while I was at it, I saw that there was early voting, so I voted, too. There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that Diebold voting machines are still in use. The good news is that they are running a paper ticker that records each vote for verification later. Hopefully, there won't be any lost votes, changed votes, or other such controversies. But I can now say that I have voted in Utah, I have a Utah license plate, registration, and drivers license. I'm a Utahn...I guess.

I'm kind of libertarian, liberal and conservative. I take what works for me and I leave the rest. I used to be Republican when they were the party of freedom. Now the Republicans would prefer that I am not able to bring my own water aboard an airplane. They want to have ready access to my email (PGP, anyone?), my phone calls, my bank statements - pretty much everything - just in case I happen to have dinner with a terrorist. We used to have "probable cause" now we have "the police state". This from a political party bent on wining an unwinnable war, making enemies around the world and then acting insulted when their authority is questioned. Perhaps they have forgotten what it means to have faith.

But I digress. Back to the voting thing.

I've talked to many people over the years about voting for third parties. When I mention someone like John Hagelin, who ran for the Natural Law party in the 2000 election, I say that I would have voted for him if I had known more about him. He's a particle physicist who can bring an entirely different point of view to the office of president.

When I look in the eyes of the people who wanted to vote for a third party but didn't, I see the real tragedy of American politics: the desire to be on the winning side. I can remember debates about whether or not to show the news relating to precinct reporting of votes on the east coast to the west coast. The debate centered on this very issue. The concern was that if people on the west coast knew how people on the east coast were voting, they'd change their vote so that they could be on the winning side. Sure enough, millions of people changed their vote over the years just to be able to say "Yeah, I voted for the winning guy!" How stupid is that?

There is a similar issue afoot in this and every election. We know now that there are a plethora of third party candidates, and there are quite a few of them on the ballot for president this year. Will people vote for them? Somebody will. But my conversations with people who had a desire to vote for third party candidates reveal something else, and they go something like this:

Me: So who do you like for President this year?

Hiim: Oh, I like Ralph Nader. He says that every child who graduates high school should know how to use the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act to get documents about themselves from the government. We need open government laws and I like that.

Me: Are you going to vote for him?

Him: Are you kidding? That would be a wasted vote! I'm voting for Obama!

Me: So how will your guy ever win if you don't vote for him? I mean, if you're not voting for the guy you want, aren't you just wasting your vote, anyway?

Him: Doh!

See what I mean? The two major parties are depending on the heard instinct to deter us from seeking alternatives. And they know we want to be on the winning side. We want to make sure our vote isn't wasted. So we get two political parties that can pretty much act like one, by precluding any meaningful choice in the elections.

There is one more element in American politics that hasn't been discussed much on national television: equal time. When we watch Meet the Press, or the debates, do we *ever* see a third party candidate get into an argument with either a Republican or a Democrat? I know I sure haven't. Have you? Those debates can get really messy. Does anyone remember what happened with Jesse Ventura?

How can people even get to know the third parties if network television isn't even willing to give them the air time - FREE airtime - that the two incumbent parties get? I guess the greatest fear of network television corporations is that we might actually get a chance to compare Democrats and Republicans against third parties. Hey, if we're watching network television, we're probably not paying for the advertising.

So ask yourself, are you feeling lucky? Are you willing to cast your vote for the guy you really want, or do you just want to be on the winning side?