How to Overcome the Wasted Vote Syndrome

In 2008, the Libertarian Party (LP) nominated former GOP Congressman Bob Barr as its presidential candidate. At the time of his nomination, Bob Barr was polling 6% against his major party opponents.

Although the presidential ticket arguably received more publicity than any previous LP slate, its vote total was a disappointing 0.4%. In Louisiana, where Barr wasn’t on the ballot and the only liberty candidate was Congressman Ron Paul (R), Paul’s vote total was also 0.4%. This was unexpected, as Ron Paul had placed first or second in the Republican primaries. Since Dr. Paul’s supporters are usually passionate about supporting him, one would have expected him to have done considerably better.

As near as I can tell, Louisiana was the only state where Congressman Paul’s name was actually on the ballot. His supporters had to know that he couldn’t possibly win. Was Dr. Paul a victim of the “wasted vote” syndrome? No other explanation for his low vote totals seems probable. Is there a way to overcome the wasted vote syndrome? In a recent article, Sean Haugh suggests that:

“The ‘wasted vote’ syndrome can be countered, but not by our presidential ticket directly. In Georgia, Bob Barr’s home state, where he campaigned heavily and had great name recognition, he had 0.8% of the vote, twice the national average. In Texas, where Bob Barr made a couple of short appearances, he also had 0.8% of the vote. Texas ran a record number of candidates per capita; only Indiana had more. In Indiana, where our presidential ticket did virtually no campaigning, it received 1.1% of the vote. In other words, our presidential ticket rides the coattails of our local candidates, overcoming the ‘wasted vote’ syndrome better than media, name recognition, or campaigning by the presidential ticket.”

Mr. Haugh is likely correct, at least in part. After all, if voters like a local LP candidate, they are more likely to consider voting for other LP candidates, including our top-of-the-ticket. Taking this one step further, how can we double, or even triple, the vote totals of our affiliates?

That answer was given to me almost 30 years ago, but I failed to appreciate its implications. I share it now with you because I believe it presents us with the closest thing to a silver bullet that we are likely to get.

In 1983, I ran with several other LP candidates on a slate for Kalamazoo City Commission. Even though the race was non-partisan, the press delighted in calling attention to our affiliation as if it were a bad thing. This suited our slate just fine; we wore our affiliation proudly and welcomed the opportunity to tell people what Libertarians were all about. To everyone’s surprise, our slate beat out all the others except for the incumbents, who were all returned.

Shortly thereafter, the City Commission started a project which involved eminent domain land grabs. I attended a meeting of concerned citizens. An elderly gentleman came up to me and put $200 cash into my hands. “Dr. Ruwart,” he started solemnly, “Please take this money and fight this for me and my brother. They are going to take our bicycle shop!”

“Now, Dr. Ruwart,” he continued, “I know that your employer, Upjohn, is going to profit from this land grab. But you, Dr. Ruwart, are a Libertarian, so I know you are on my side.” The last sentence was spoken almost reverently. This gentleman was so sure of what Libertarians stood for that he trusted me to help him even while he acknowledged that I might get serious pressure from my employer.

The Libertarian candidates joined the fight and helped kill the land grab. We rolled back big government without electing a single person.

The LP in Kalamazoo had other such victories, as did our affiliates throughout the U.S. Local groups were defeating tax hikes, rolling back property taxes, stopping implementation of regulations. While these successes were acknowledged, they weren’t celebrated as the victories that they truly were. All over the country, local Libertarians were rolling back big government without electing a single person.

At the state level, Libertarian Party member and medical marijuana activist, Steve Kubby, was a key player in helping to pass California’s Proposition 215. Once medical marijuana was legalized there, other states followed suit. Today, about 25% of the nation’s population has legal access to medical marijuana. Even at the state level, Libertarians succeeded in rolling back big government without electing a single person.

Although not widely known or recognized, Clinton care was killed by Libertarian Party members and libertarian activists. With my coauthor, Jarret Wollstein, I wrote and published “Lethal Compassion: The Cure That Kills.” Jarret and I appeared on over a hundred radio shows to alert the population to the dark side of this legislation. About 80% of the people who spoke out against Clinton care were familiar to me as long-time libertarians. Libertarians stopped government’s national health care takeover without electing a single person.

As libertarians, we have tremendous power. However, we are so focused on winning elections that we tend to neglect our real strength. We’re frustrated by the “wasted vote syndrome,” but do little to counter it, even though we hold the key in our hands. That key is activism at the local, state and national level. If we have the power to roll back big government, shouldn’t we use it?

Right now, our biggest deterrent to winning elections is the “wasted vote syndrome.” Activism is probably the most effective way we have of fighting that major stumbling block.

To illustrate this, let’s go back to Kalamazoo again. After the City Commission election, I became one of the first appointed Libertarians, serving for two years on the Public Safety Task Force. I and the other Libertarians involved gained name recognition and gratitude from the targeted victims. The people of Kalamazoo had learned who would stand by them in their hour of need. Had we asked for a campaign donation or a vote, it would have been ours.

Consequently, in 1985, I probably could have been elected to the City Commission. I decided not to run because it would have been impossible to fulfill those duties without giving up my pharmaceutical research career.

The moral of this story is that people support and vote for their heroes/heroines. If Libertarians were the “who do you call when big government comes knocking at your door” people, they’d gain support and votes.

Indeed, when libertarians have helped keep government from squelching rights, they not only get support, they intimidate big government. Take the Institute for Justice, for example, a well-funded and highly successful libertarian non-profit. IJ has become so well known for their pro-bono legal work that government aggressors back off when they hear that their libertarian litigators are on the case.

Imagine city planners backing off on their eminent domain land grabs when they hear that their local LP had decided to join the fight! Imagine a city council proposal to raise taxes dying because the LP comes out in force (excuse the pun!) when it’s on council’s agenda!

Unlike many of our dreams, these can come true. We can roll back big government without electing a single person; we know it’s so, because we’ve already done it! The LP is already a force to be reckoned with; we simply have not flexed our muscles because we are so focused on winning elections.

And what would happen should we, by some miracle or confluence of circumstances, win a Congressional seat? How effective has Congressman Ron Paul been in terms of stopping bad legislation? Sadly, not very. One libertarian in Congress—or even two or three—just can’t roll back big government when the majority rules.

We should be “hitting them were they ain’t,” where majorities don’t always rule. We’ve already seen how libertarians have slashed taxes, stopped eminent domain land grabs, legalized medical marijuana, and stopped Clinton care without electing a single person. When libertarians become the people to turn to when big government comes knocking on the door, we have the best chance of getting popular support and the votes that come with it.

In corporate America, we must often function at a level above our pay grade if we want a promotion. We show we can do the job before we get it. Maybe that’s what we, as Libertarians, need to do too: performance, not just promises.

We can roll back big government, even if we never elect anybody. What are we waiting for?

First posted at with the title “Rolling back big government without electing a single person.”

Mary J. Ruwart, Ph.D., is the author of “Healing Our World,” an award-winning liberty primer for liberals, Christians, New Agers, and pragmatists. She also wrote “Short Answers to the Tough Questions: Sound Bites for the Libertarian Candidate” after her popular Internet column (

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