[To my readers, I still have not recovered 100% from my shoulder injury, but it is well enough that typing at length is possible. We are fine where I am in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and a nor'easter that hit just days ago, about a week after Sandy. We had no damage and the electricity stayed on the entire time during Sandy, and just a little snow shower and sleet during the nor'easter. I am grateful we fared well with the storms and glad to be back at the keyboard, commenting.]
Two days ago, along with millions of other Americans, I went to the polls to vote in the general election. Although born here in America, I am a late arrival to the act of voting; this was only my third general election. In addition, I have voted in two mid-term elections (2006 and 2010) and local special elections.
I spent most of my life jaded with the election process and politics in general. I was well aware of the political mantra of Every vote counts, but I refused to believe it. I would say that the word that best described my sentiment was "irrelevant".
My parents never voted -- they shared my same sentiment -- but I would always watch the election night results. I first started in 1972, when Richard Nixon won re-election. In the past several years, as well as when I was much younger, I went to bed before the election was decided and found out who won in the morning. (Well, there was that pesky 2000 election that wasn't decided until over a month later!)
Speaking of the 2000 presidential election, the events that took place to decide that election, along with the policies and actions of then-President George W. Bush and his administration (i.e. 9/11, Iraq War, War on Terrorism, Hurricane Katrina response) were enough to persuade me to vote for the first time. My first votes were cast in the 2004 general election. I voted for John Kerry, and even though he didn't win, I continued to vote: in the 2006 mid-terms, the 2008 general election, the 2010 mid-terms, and this year's general election.
My non-voting parents always sided with the Democrats, and my voting record in the last two presidential elections shows I followed in their understanding: John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. My feeling is that the Democrats are, to varying degrees, more for the working person, and the Republicans are more for businesses and the wealthy. I admit my cynicism has remained in the form that what good for the common individual that either party does is not always high on their respective to-do lists.
However, in retrospect, I must also admit that my votes for Democratic presidential nominees were cast not so much as pro-Kerry or pro-Obama, but more anti-Bush and anti-Republican. Of course, when someone votes for something, it inherently, by its nature, means it is subtextually a vote against something else. What I was voting for was coming from a place inside of me that was based more in "not him" or "not them", rather than "for someone else".
Like many other Americans, I was told that a vote for someone other than a Democratic or Republican nominee -- a third-party candidate -- was a wasted vote. Granted, third-party candidates, at least in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, rarely break or come close to 10% of the national vote, but is everyone who votes for a third-party candidate really throwing away their vote? What if a voter agrees more with what the third-party candidate says than what the two major party candidates say? The thinking is that they should ignore that and vote for one of the two major party candidates anyway. Really? So, car companies can offer several types of vehicles (and more than one type of the same vehicle), Starbucks can offer dozens of coffee choices, cable TV can offer hundreds of stations, and that's all okay...but serious consideration of a third-party candidate is not okay? I have come to a place where I believe voting your conscience is key, while far too many others will say that voting one's own conscience might be ... irrelevant.
Freedom of choice is a very narrow concept politically.
A vote cast as "the lesser of two evils" is a wasted vote. A vote cast as "I'm not crazy about this candidate, but I know I dislike the other candidate more" is a wasted vote. Both are abdication of one's own responsibility as a voter. Both say that your vote is the same as a game show consolation prize. Not to mention that both are reflective of people's impressions of candidates, parties, and politics in general. I won't add votes not cast, since I understand very well about feeling disenfranchised, and a vote cast for the wrong reasons is a wasted vote. A vote not cast is simply a missed opportunity.
This year, for the first time, I voted third party. It wasn't because I wanted to pick a lesser evil or because I disliked one major candidate less than the other. It was because I wanted to take part in the voting process, but I was unhappy with the two main choices offered. It was because I feel more candidates should be given a fair shot in elections. It was because my vote is neither a consolation prize nor an abdication of responsibility.
My vote was for Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein and her Vice-Presidential running mate Cheri Honkala. Even though they finished fourth overall, with less than 1/2 of 1% of the vote, I still felt good about my vote. I knew it was unlikely she, or any third-party candidate, would win, but I also knew that my vote, while among the few and far-between, stood for something more than dissatisfied resignation.
And that is not a wasted vote.