Spoiling an Election

We will be told that the Libertarian candidate will steal votes from Trump, and the Green Party candidate will steal votes from Hillary. We will be told these minor party candidates might spoil the election for the “real” candidates. We will be told about “spoiling” the election over and over again. “Spoiling the election” is so common a phrase, we might think it’s just common sense – unless we exercise a bit of critical thinking about the concept.

Let’s look at one particular instance of the “spoiler” meme: Will Jill Stein take votes from Hillary in this election?

freedom and prosperity

Credit:  Center for Freedom and Prosperity

Jill has no ability to compel you or anyone else to vote either for her or against her. She will get votes only from people who do not want to vote for Hillary, or for Trump, or for Johnson (the Libertarian nominee). That is, she will get votes only from those who want to vote for her. Exactly the same is true for all the other candidates. People who want to vote for Trump, will vote for Trump, and so on.

Anyone who wants to vote for Hillary will be able to vote for Hillary. Anyone who wants to vote for Jill will (in most states, where she will be on the ballot) be able to vote for Jill. If you understand that voters can vote for whichever candidate they want, and that this is a good thing, then you understand that no candidate can take votes from any other, and “X spoiled Y’s election” is just a crappy excuse made up for candidates who did not get enough votes to win their election.

Of course, looking at the election in this way requires you actually believe individual people should be able to vote for the candidates they prefer, regardless of how utterly wrong their choices might seem to you. And you can vote your preferences, no matter how horrible, dangerous, immoral or even treasonous your preferences seem to anyone else. In short, if you actually believe in democracy, you understand that no candidate can spoil an election for any of his or her opponents. It’s as simple as that.

if a vote for jill

Where, then, does this idea of “spoilers” originate? Well, not everyone looks at elections from the bottom up; i.e., from the perspective of an ordinary voter. People who look at elections from the top down have been described with various terms: bureaucrats, apparatchiks, elites, the 1%, the ruling class, professional politicians, established leadership, and so on. These are the people who believe that they and their friends are the ones qualified to run things, and that the ignorant masses should just follow their leadership.

Justifications for leaving elections to those candidates deemed respectable enough to be nominated by one of the two major parties are varied. We’ll hear about stability, economic development, continuity in foreign policy, winning the war on terrorism, etc. All these “reasons” are designed to prop up the “leadership” of one or the other major party.

If you’re satisfied with the way things are, if you actually want business as usual to continue, by all means vote for major party candidates. Voting only for the candidates of a major party can be represented as practical, realistic and certainly as the lesser evil compared to the wild social experiments of, for instance, universal single-payer health care, free education and protecting the environment.

What you’ll notice about all the ways of thinking that one candidate might spoil the election of an opponent is that none of them support the idea that the people’s choice – the one who gets the most votes – is the right choice. The elitists, both Democrats and Republicans who have been running our government since the Civil War, have set in place rules for voting that reinforce the idea of only two entitled parties. That’s the two-party system that has gotten us where we are today. (See Race to the Bottom for an idea of where we are today.)

In Michigan, only Democrats and Republicans can participate in primaries paid for by the State of Michigan. That’s the law. Other parties and independent candidates get on the ballot by other means and at their own expense. The Green Party of Michigan believes that primary elections paid for and administered by the State of Michigan should be eliminated. Instead of being bi-partisan, the state election apparatus hould be completely non-partisan.

In addition, without any need to change the state constitution, instant runoff voting would allow voters to rank several candidates for each office in the order of their preference. It might take a little longer to count the votes, but when the election is early in November and the candidates take office in January, we have time to count the votes carefully.

Instant-runoff voting, also called ranked-choice voting, works to determine the Heisman Trophy winner out of a field of several candidates. It works to determine the winners of Academy Awards in all award categories. There’s even free open-source software for voting machines that will count instant runoff votes, though hand-counting of human-readable ballots also works. The Green Party of Michigan advocates instant runoff voting for all offices.

If we had instant-runoff voting, “spoiling” would obviously be impossible. Maybe that’s why we don’t have it.

Here’s the point to remember whenever anyone brings up the “spoiler” argument: No party or candidate owns your vote. You do not owe your vote to any party or any candidate. You should not give your vote to any candidate who does not, in your opinion, deserve it. In deciding who deserves your vote, it’s your opinion that counts, not anyone else’s opinion.

If you vote for whoever you think is the best candidate for any offices, how is that “spoiling” an election? Losing candidates will look for any excuse, but why should their whining concern you?


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