Remember the [somewhat horrible] Richard Pryor movie Brewster's Millions? A little plot refresher for those of you not fortunate enough to live through the 1980's:
Monty Brewster [Pryor's character] is given the opportunity to inherit his dead uncle's $300million estate. First, however, he must spend $30million in 30 days without retaining any assets. In the end, he decides the best way to waste the money is through politics [is there a lesson here?] by running a mayoral campaign, encouraging the masses vote "none of the above." Ironically, that's how some people I've talked recently wish they could vote for this presidential election.
A somewhat popular evangelical Christian author claims that since he cannot support either of the major party candidate he will simply keep his vote to himself. He states that he has moral objections of both candidates and, therefore, he'll not participate in this year's election. In defense of his inaction, he quotes Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater saying, "Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy." That could possibly be a true statement, especially when it comes to voting on propositions or head-to-head contests. But I'm not sure this has to apply to the Presidential election because, even if you don't realize it South Park kids, there are more than two choices in this contest.
There is a myth that is prevalent among many Americans which states that a vote for a third-party candidate is a wasted vote. The idea stems from the fact that you don't just voting for someone, but that you are also voting against someone. So, for example, if I'm divided between the candidates, only sure of the fact that I hate McCain, then I should vote for Obama, regardless of whether or not I agree with his policies. This might make perfect sense for some of you, but I'd argue that it makes no more sense than not voting at all. Why reward a candidate with your vote when they haven't earned it? In my mind, that is surrendering your vote which is much worse than "wasting" one any day.
What if you're a Republican living in California or a Democrat living in Texas? Those states are not up for grabs and are already decided; you can cast your vote with your party and it won't make a difference at all. So is your vote wasted then? Hardly, because you're still voicing your opinion on whom you support. How then is a dissenting vote to a third-party any different? In that same vein, I hear people who object to third-party voting because their candidates have no chance of winning. So does your vote only count if you back the winning party? If so, our nation is full of wasted votes, and I have a personal history of them.
Despite what you've heard, a vote for a third party can definitely make a difference, perhaps even more than you realize. Even though none of these third party candidates will win the White House this year, a good turnout on election day can help them to do so in the future. The FEC bi-laws state that, "a third-party Presidential candidate may qualify for some public funds after the general election if he or she receives at least five percent of the popular vote." So if a third-party candidate can manage to capture 5% of the national vote, they are then entitled to some of the federal election funds that are so valuable for viability. This last person to do so was Ross Perot, who's Reform Party gained almost 19% of the popular vote in 1992. If there is ever going to be a significant alternative to the Republicans or Democrats in this country, then it will begin with the presidential election.
So for your viewing pleasure, here is the list of major third party candidates running for the Presidency this year. There are even more than this, but I wanted to at least give you the names that will appear on practically every state ballot:
BOSTON TEA PARTY / PERSONAL CHOICE PARTY: Charles Jay
CONSTITUTION PARTY: Charles "Chuck" Baldwin
GREEN PARTY: Cynthia McKinney
INDEPENDENT / AMERICA'S INDEPENDENT PARTY / AMERICAN INDEPENDENT PARTY: Alan Keyes
INDEPENDENT / INDEPENDENT-ECOLOGY PARTY / PEACE & FREEDOM PARTY / NATURAL LAW PARTY: Ralph Nader
LIBERTARIAN PARTY: Bob Barr
PARTY OF SOCIALISM AND LIBERATION: Gloria LaRiva
PROHIBITION PARTY: Gene Amondson
REFORM PARTY: Ted Weill
Look, I'm not necessarily encouraging you to vote for any of these people; in fact, there's some here that are far worse options than the two major candidates. But if you're still uncomfortable with your choices this year (and even if you're not) you should investigate what all these candidates stand for as well. Voting outside the two parties is not a waste; it's just as viable a vote as one for McCain or Obama.
In the end, it would make you the most informed at the polls and you could more confidently defend your decision to back your chosen candidate.