JP Observer: How not to waste a vote for president

Voters Beware Tip #3 to prepare for the Nov. 5 election, in song: “Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be vote-wasters.” (Thanks to Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson for the “cowboys” lyrics inspiration.)

Everybody knows it’s important to register and then vote in the presidential election. Period. 

Unfortunately, some people waste their final votes for president on a candidate or blank ballot that won’t achieve anything. Worst of all, the nihilistic behavior could very well lead to the voter’s least favorite candidate winning, as third-party voting may well have done in 2016.

During a very close presidential election where the candidates of the two major parties on the final ballot are different in important ways, a vote-waster is someone who: 1) votes for a third-party candidate who doesn’t have a chance of winning; 2) writes in a name not on the ballot; 3) purposely leaves all the circles blank next to the presidential choices on their ballot, essentially choosing to officially not choose anyone for president; or 4) purposely doesn’t vote in the entire election in the first place.

The Democratic and Republican Parties will hold primary elections here soon, on March 5. People who are not enrolled in either party (called “unenrolled” voters officially), can ask for a ballot for either party primary in our state. This Voters Beware Tip about vote-wasting pertains to the final election.

No one doubts, at this point, that it looks like the November presidential election results will be close nationally, as they often are.

Lots of pundits and politicos have theorized for years about why and how controversial Donald Trump, predicted to lose by pollsters and pundits, won the presidency in 2016. The mathematical answer lies in numbers of votes cast—not simply for Republican Trump or Democrat Hilary Clinton—but for Green Party nominee Jill Stein in just three states.

Stein won more votes than Trump’s margin of victory in swing (or “battleground” or “competitive” or “purple”) states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2016. If those vote-wasters had voted for Clinton instead of Stein, she would have captured those states’ electors, the electoral college and, therefore the presidency, as reported in USA Today. Trump would not have become president. Though Clinton famously won the national popular vote by millions, she only needed those three states’ votes that went to Stein to win it all.

Republicans hoping vote-wasters take control of the final presidential election results again this year are already setting the table during the primary season to encourage Democrats to waste their votes. Candidates and campaigns love to claim Biden shares Trump’s poor leadership qualities.

Nikki Haley, running against front-runner Trump for the Republican nomination, begins many of her many TV ads by saying negative things about both Trump and Biden: They are “too old.” This past Sunday in a speech in New Hampshire, she said making either of them president might be tantamount to “abuse of old guys,” preferencing her statement by saying she didn’t want to be “disrespectful.”

Haley further tries to muddy their differences by attaching Trump’s defects to Biden, too, “Both are consumed by chaos, negativity and grievances of the past,” her ads and supporters repeat like a mantra only in slightly different words many times over.

According to USA Today, then “GOP presidential contender Chris Christie called [Biden versus Trump] a ‘crappy choice’ during a recent campaign stop, telling a crowd of New Hampshire voters they ‘don’t have an obligation to vote for either of them’ if that’s the choice in November.”

We all need to be aware of this kind of rhetoric purposely designed to blur differences between the two major candidates—call it out and refuse to fall for it.

Anyone who doesn’t want Republican Donald Trump to be elected again this coming November needs to support and then vote for Democrat Joe Biden. It’s pretty simple. In Jamaica Plain, Boston and Massachusetts, which all tend to vote Democratic, votes not cast for Biden or Trump will probably end up supporting Trump. But it might not matter because the Democratic candidate usually wins here despite set-backs.

Meanwhile, many of us have friends and family in other states. And if one of them says they are thinking of wasting their vote by casting it for neither top candidate, reasonable people should try to diplomatically but firmly talk them out of it, especially if that friend or relative lives and votes in a swing state where results are so crucial to the electoral college vote.

Swing states in 2020, identified by Ballotpedia, where the votes will probably also be close in 2024 are: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin. Massachusetts is not a swing state, because we vote predictably Democratic.

Vote-wasters are often responding to the tired, confusing cliche spoken in many of our elections, that voting for one of the two main candidates requires choosing between “the lesser of two evils.”

Or they poo-poo “party politics.”

Say they are “sending a message.”

The vote-wasters sometimes say they are expressing their morals and beliefs in the voting booth.

Those reasons show a sense of righteousness that, unfortunately, amounts to absurdity when it comes to the entirely negative outcome that kind of vote seriously risks. Often, it’s true, voting can require choosing between on overall bad candidate and a specifically flawed one.

Even people who seriously disagree with one or two important stands of the flawed candidate should vote for that person anyway. It’s highly unlikely a voter can find anyone who agrees with them on everything. It’s better not to vote in ways that end up promoting the worst person, while lobbying the less-than-perfect candidate to change.

Earlier this month columnist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich called the idea of voting third party to avoid voting for the “lesser of two evils” “rubbish,” pointing out what he correctly predicted in 2016: Not voting for the Democratic candidate would support Trump getting elected.

Voting is not a religious act. No candidate is the perfect choice, just like no voter would be. It’s actually a better idea to vote for the less than perfect candidate than to help launch the bad one into office indirectly.

Using our full voting strength to block the person who seems to be the worst candidate for president is a great idea. That’s an important goal of all voting. That’s what everyone alive today and in future generations is counting on us as voters to do this year. We are not choosing a religious leader or guru; we’re voting for a government leader.

People who want to reform party politics should get active in the party at the grassroots or state level. That how the Democratic Party drastically changed to include many more women and people of color in its presidential nominee selection system and national convention in the 1960s.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr, Cornel West, and Jill Stein have already announced they are also running for president this year. The third party candidates are now trying to qualify to appear on the November ballots in various states, but it is considered very unlikely they can come close to winning the entire election. Sen. Joe Manchin has said he may run. The Libertarian Party plans to choose candidates in May, and others have expressed interest.

Third party votes in the final for Kennedy or the Libertarian may likely be made by Republican-leaning voters; hence the Trump campaign has been known to express concern that voters might choose one of them instead of him.

In 2016, an amazing 7.8 million voters nationally cast their presidential votes for someone other than Trump or Clinton in what was forecasted and turned out to be a very close contest.

Even in Boston, 6.6 percent of votes for president went to candidates from “various parties,” excluding the top two.

In our state, 1.52 percent of voters wrote someone in for president.

In his home state of Vermont, more than 18,000 people wrote in Bernie Sanders, giving him 3-5 percent of the total vote. Some states record names written in, and some don’t. Nationwide, it was possible to vote for Sanders as a write-in candidate in 12 states, and exact totals of write-in votes for Sanders were published in three of those states: California, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Sanders received 111,850 write-in votes there.

Counting ballots where the presidential vote was left blank nationally is even more difficult than counting write-ins to determine results. According to the Washington Post, the 33 states that actually count those blanks reported that a total of 1.6 million people chose to not make any choice for chief executive on the ballot they turned in. We will never know about the other 17 states.

Back in 2016 people who said they were going to waste their votes were sometimes reminded by reasonable people that they could be voting in a way that would give erratic Trump control over our nuclear arsenal.

Others warned with just one word: “judges,” reminding doubters that whomever wins the presidency (and it won’t be a third-party person or a write-in or blank ballot) gets to appoint lots of them to federal courts who will serve many years into the future.

The same warnings apply to this coming election—plus many other awful outcomes we know about this time after his one term in office, outcomes that led to two impeachments and 91 indictment counts.

Lots of people wasting their votes on third party candidates, write-ins or blank ballots won’t be delivering anything but a nihilistic, self-destructive message to the powers-that-be, very few of whom actually pay much attention to results for the also-rans. Blanks and write-ins don’t ever get noted or tallied in many states. Vote-wasters can only look forward to knowing they may have contributed to their last choice candidate for the job winning it over everyone else.

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