Freedom Philosophy: On Wasting Your Vote

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Any time I’ve opined about voting for a Libertarian candidate over a mainstream party the statistical likelihood that someone will chastise me for wasting my vote approaches 100% if the group consists of 10 individuals. The reality of most voting situations, however, is that nearly all votes are wasted votes.

The true waste of a vote is voting for a candidate whose beliefs are not remotely similar to our own. This is the result, political parties outmaneuvering individuals for their own purposes; claiming that other views must be silenced so theirs can be aggrandized.

But there is a statistical argument that also suggests the majority of ballots cast are a waste.

The only axiom required to make the argument is defining a wasted vote as one that, if it had not been cast (if the voter simply had stayed home on Election Day), would not have changed the outcome.

Anyone can use whatever political parties exist within their country, I’ll use Canadian examples.

Suppose there is an election within a riding of 10,000 voters and the Liberal candidate receives 4,500 votes, while the Conservative receives 3,000, the NDP and Green Party receive 1,000 each, and the Libertarian candidate receives 500.

Of the Liberal votes, only 3001 were needed to get their candidate in power and therefore 1499 votes were a waste. The Conservative, NDP, Green, and Libertarian votes had no impact upon governance, and thus they also fit the definition of a wasted vote. 69.99% of the votes were wasted. The only instance where the majority of ballots are not a waste is the instance of 50.01% of the ballots were needed to secure a victory – which has never happened in a federal election (although some shifts in government have come down to ten votes in the past, none have come down to one).

There is a counter-argument to this. It describes a situation in which enough voters feel as though their vote is worthless and a powerful enemy comes to power because enough voters decided their vote was wasted and simply voted for a third party.

Suppose a voter believes that the greater danger is Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump, but in accepting my above reasoning they insist on voting for Johnson or Stein, and enough Trump supporters felt the same and so Clinton comes into power.

In the example that sufficient numbers of people migrate to third and fourth parties, then why suppose only small numbers will? If enough people migrate to the Libertarian Party then we will have improved governance. In the extreme case that enough people vote for their preferred candidate then people will get governance that more accurately represents them.

The purely pragmatic view is that your vote won’t affect anything in any case, and the ideological view is that you ought to vote for the one nearest to your beliefs. In any case, voting for a third party is the responsible thing to do.

This post was written by Brandon Kirby.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.

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Brandon Kirby

Brandon Kirby is a philosopher, financial adviser, a founder of a local investment club, and he hosts regular symposiums in philosophy. He is also a member of Canada’s Libertarian Party.

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