Come election day, millions may vote for George W. Bush and Al Gore while not believing in them. Doubtlessly, some will vote for one of these two enthusiastically, but sometimes it seems neither of these candidates has inspired many beyond their immediate family and those on their campaign payroll. Many unimpassioned voters would consider backing a third party candidate, like consumer advocate Ralph Nader - or Pat Buchanan or the Libertarian or Natural Law candidates. But voters are scared.
Many are frightened that Gore will win - so they plan to vote for Bush; many others are afraid that Bush will win - so they're looking at voting for Gore. Are we becoming a nation that votes its fears rather than its hopes and convictions? A vote should be a statement of what someone believes - and indeed millions will do that come November 7. However, many feel sidelined, their heart tells them to vote for a third party candidate, but their head tells them to go for the "lesser of two evils."
Even with these shackles there are solutions - if people really do think it through. One answer is suggested by the group Citizens for Strategic Voting, which is taking out ads in newspapers urging people in states in which Gore or Bush does not have a chance of winning to vote for Ralph Nader. People could thus vote for Green Party candidate Nader without feeling they are helping whichever of the major party candidates they want to keep out of the White House. This is of course because the president is elected by winning a majority of the electoral college and the candidate who wins a given state gets all the electoral votes from that state. And if Nader gets 5 percent of the popular vote, as Ross Perot did in 1996, the Green Party gets federal money in 2004.
Good enough. But what if you live in one of those "swing states," (like Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Oregon, Washington) or if you don't believe the polls?
Here's a sure-fire solution - if you are close to (and trust) someone who is on the other side of the two party divide in your state.
Say a husband plans to vote for Gore since he thinks Bush is dim. His wife plans to vote for Bush because she thinks Gore is deceitful. If they both - in the their hearts would like to vote for some third party candidate - they can do so, by trusting each other and both voting for the third party candidate.
If they had just gone along with the husband voting for Gore and the wife voting for Bush, in effect they would cancel out each other's vote. But if they both vote for a third party candidate, they can magnify their votes. For example, if instead of one for Gore and the other for Bush they both voted for Nader, they would not change the balance between Gore and Bush, but they would give Nader two votes. Instead of "wasting" their votes (by canceling out each other), they would double their vote by giving both to the candidate they truly want. They would vote their conviction without helping whichever politician they least want. Of course, people can do this with any third party candidate, and indeed, with any two third party candidates (a husband can vote for one third party candidate, the wife for a different one). This would send a strong signal that people are not satisfied with the major parties.
A would-be Republican voting for Nader is not as unlikely as it might seem to some. Nader's attraction comes largely from his intelligence and integrity. In his address at the Green Party convention, he welcomed "authentic conservatives" - as opposed to "corporatists." He stands for community, for family, for accountability - as well as for social justice, the environment and peace. He stands against abusive power, whether by corporations - or the government.
This "vote swap" option is exercised by politicians all the time. One congressman votes for another's dam project in return for a vote for his military base. Maybe it's about time that the public used such tactics.
So there are solutions. People don't need to feel bound by the "lesser of two evil argument." Step one: vote your convictions; Step two: figure out what's happening in your state and vote with your head; Step three: find a friend, relative or co-worker who was planning on voting for the other "less of two evils," make a pact and double your heart instead of canceling out each other on election day.
[originally published on Common Dreams on Oct. 29, 2000; posted on posthaven Dec. 17, 2015]