In he fahe last two weeks, the Argus has published two opinion pieces arguing against voting for third-party candidates. The central theme of these articles is a reasonable, and perhaps even noble one. Indeed it is one that has become common in the liberal press. Conor Aberle and Emilia Gertner, the authors, urge Wesleyan’s voters to see their opportunity to vote through a practical, rather than purely idealistic, lens. They make the case that voters should choose to vote for Hillary Clinton to defeat Donald Trump even if they don’t like her. I agree that voting should be based on a clear-eyed look at practical consequences, and I believe that Hillary Clinton is far better than Donald Trump, but any actual practical analysis points to an uncomfortable fact of life for most of us here at Wesleyan. A fact more disturbing than the idea that we can’t afford the luxury of a protest vote. That fact is that, for the vast majority of Wesleyan’s students, our votes in a presidential election mean very little.
The structure of the electoral college, which rewards all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins the highest percentage of the popular vote there, makes a few states, like Ohio and Florida, very important while rendering most US citizens afterthoughts in the presidential campaign. In swing states, where the margin of victory is often no larger than tens of thousands of votes, people should by all means vote to keep Donald Trump out of power by voting for Hillary Clinton. For the rest of us, who represent the majority of Wesleyan’s student body, analyzing the potential impact of the ballot we will cast reveals that it probably won’t mean much of anything. It is a fact that Hillary Clinton will win the electoral votes of New York and Massachusetts just as it is a fact that Donald Trump will win the electoral votes of Alabama and Idaho. Voters who live in those states might reasonably decide that slight increases in the vote percentage of a third-party candidate have more of a political impact than slightly reducing the huge margin between the two candidates of the main parties.
Emilia Gertner ended her article by stating that “An election like this raises the question of whether voters should place more value on the act of voting as an expression of one’s conscience, or on the act of voting as a means to achieve something practical and important.” To voters outside of the swing states (who make up a majority of Wesleyan’s student body) a vote for Hillary Clinton is as much a powerless expression of conscience as any vote for a third-party candidate. It may be comforting to believe that our votes, if used correctly, give us the opportunity to put practicality before mindless idealism and fight against Donald Trump. Conor Aberle even argues that they give white allies the chance to stand up against white supremacy. The unfortunate truth is that, for voters outside of the few states that make a real difference in this election, the protest votes argued against by people focused on “practicality” mean as much or as little as votes for their preferred candidate.