Over Memorial Day Weekend, the Libertarian Party hosted a one-of-a-kind virtual national convention. Delegates, along with party leaders, gathered online and, after four rounds of voting, nominated Dr. Jo Jorgensen as the party’s presidential nominee.
Like many Libertarians, I was ecstatic to hear the news; Dr. Jorgensen is a fantastic candidate and will represent the Libertarian Party well. But while Libertarians celebrated our nominee, a familiar refrain began to creep across the pages of the marvelous spectacle that is the internet: “a vote for a third party is a vote for (insert political opponent here).”
This incessantly spouted nonsense, from both Republicans and Democrats, is not merely a way of criticizing parties with which we disagree or a blatant attempt to shift the failure of a favored candidate onto anyone but the candidate themself. It is an attempt to eliminate the most fundamental principle of democracy: it’s your vote.
“I’m With Her”
Within hours of Dr. Jorgensen’s nomination, an interesting trend began to grow on Twitter. With a twinge of humor, Dr. Jorgensen sent out a tweet, asking if she should use the now infamous slogan, “I’m With Her.” Libertarians reveled in the humor, as well as the sincere declaration that they supported their nominee.
This bout of playful political humor and support was not well-received by Democrats who are still jaded by Clinton’s loss in 2016. While many have seemed to suggest that a woman, who is not a Democrat, is not worthy to be president, the more common theme is that a vote for Dr. Jorgensen is a vote for Donald Trump.
In an op-ed for CNN, Dean Obeidallah stated that “the hashtag ‘I’m with Her’ should be revised to more accurately read ‘I’m with Donald Trump’ — because that’s what voting for her or any third-party candidate means in this election. Here’s more cold, hard truth given our two-party system: If you want to defeat Trump in 2020, the only choice is Joe Biden.”
Third-party voters are often told that we are stealing votes from other candidates. After voting for Gary Johnson in 2016, I have been accused, by strangers, friends, and family, of stealing votes from both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Given that it was my vote and no one else’s, and both accusations cannot be true at the same time, it is safe to say that such arguments are nonsense.
Unfortunately, the oft-cited math that suggests that Clinton would have won the 2016 election, were it not for those pesky third parties, suffers from one major flaw: the margin of victory in key states in 2016 are only a fraction of the number of non-voters in 2016.
While Democrats fumed, claiming that the Libertarian and Green Parties “stole” just enough votes to keep Hillary Clinton from winning, they seem to ignore the ninety-two million votes that were not cast at all. There were also an additional two million voters who voted in their congressional races but chose not to vote for any presidential candidate.
Republicans are not excused from this terrible habit, either. In 2019, the Kentucky gubernatorial race was decided by a mere 4,000 votes and change, giving Andy Beshear, a Democrat, a narrow victory over Matt Bevin. With Libertarian candidate John Hicks receiving over 20,000 votes, Republicans immediately blamed their candidate’s failure on Hicks.
Much like the Democratic Party’s blame on Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, it is entirely misplaced. Republicans won every other statewide race by much wider margins, with the smallest being over 60,000 votes and the largest being by over 300,000 votes. Libertarians were not the cause of Matt Bevin nor Hillary Clinton’s defeat; their defeat was their own.
I understand Mr. Obeidallah’s position; when we become invested in political parties and candidates, elections can carry incredible emotional weight. 2016 was a particularly personal election for many, including myself, as Trump’s rhetoric, and the reactions it generated from both sides, have dealt blows to many who did not deserve such treatment.
The simple reality, however, is that our votes do not belong to parties or candidates; they belong to the individual. To spread such propaganda as “you’re voting for (insert my opponent here),” “you’re wasting your vote,” or “your candidate is a shill” is not simply offensive but is harmful to the democratic process.
These so-called “major parties” are grossly outnumbered by Americans seeking an alternative. They have worked hard to twist the rules to prevent another challenger. When someone says a Libertarian is not a “viable” option, that is the mindset perpetuated by purposeful restrictions and insidious misinformation and rhetoric to convince voters that they only have two choices.
Your Vote, Your Choice
Third parties like the Libertarian Party and Green Party do not exist to support or harm another candidate in clandestine fashion. They exist in opposition to the Republican and Democratic Parties and represent the individuals who are tired of the two-party paradigm, which has been detrimental to all Americans for far too long. We offer not just an alternative for disenchanted Republicans and Democrats, but for the millions of independent voters and past non-voters.
With a democracy comes the freedom of choice and the realities of victory and defeat. If a candidate does not receive a vote, then they have not earned it. I am not stealing your candidate’s votes, nor am I actively voting for someone else. Donald Trump will not receive any votes given to Dr. Jorgensen, nor will Joe Biden. If either candidate loses, that failure is entirely on them.
I’m Choosing to Vote for Dr. Jorgensen
I am rarely offended, even when I clearly should feel as such. Someone who criticizes my vote, or my position or views does not offend me. In fact, I see that as an opportunity for spirited, civil debate. I welcome disagreement, as it makes us all stronger in the end. But the suggestion that my support of a candidate is somehow the same as supporting two candidates who I revile is offensive to me. The suggestion that another option in a democracy is somehow harmful offends me. And that so many seem to swallow this narrative while claiming that our very Republic is at stake offends and saddens me. Party politics has removed our ability to think freely and express our views at the ballot box. Shame on us all.
To put it another way: in a free Republic, how can one look at the blatant effort to restrict Americans’ choices at the ballot box, through legislation and repeated misinformation, as less than a threat to democracy than a single candidate? Is the active manipulation by two sitting parties to block real alternatives better than hearing a different voice? If it is, then democracy is already dead.
Come November, I will proudly vote for Dr. Jo Jorgensen. I will do so without reservation or fear of another candidate winning. My vote is mine to give and no amount of arrogant claims of ownership of my vote by any party or candidate will sway me.