The Wasted Vote Lie

by R. Lee Wrights

“Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual – or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.”

– Samuel Adams, in the Boston Gazette, 1781

Every election Libertarians are invariably confronted with the charge that a vote for a Libertarian candidate is a wasted vote. The accuser claims that if you really wanted limited government you should vote for the candidate who has a chance of winning – the Republican. In some rare cases, the assertion may be that if you really wanted to protect civil liberties you’d vote for the candidate who has a chance of winning – the Democrat. And yet, our liberty goes unprotected as government grows unimpeded.

To my utter astonishment, this bogus argument invariably causes some genuine freedom-loving people to betray their stated beliefs. Why do they leap from the Ship of Principle into the stormy Sea of Compromise at the very moment their strength, courage and resolve are needed the most? Only one thing makes a person abandon everything they’ve ever believed in and fought for – desperation, the feeling that all is lost and the best one can do is choose the lesser of two evils. Even telling them that voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil doesn’t seem to dissuade them from their decision.

Little do they realize that they have once again been duped by the Wasted Vote Lie. It is a deliberate, carefully crafted fable concocted and perpetrated by the Democratic and Republican duopoly to maintain their stranglehold on power. They cleverly employ the propaganda trick of tyrants throughout the ages; if you repeat a lie loud enough and often enough eventually people will believe it.

The worst thing about voting for the “lesser of two evils” is that it actually has the opposite effect of what it’s intended to do. Winning candidates don’t know, they don’t want to know – and frankly don’t care – why people vote for them. They certainly don’t know and don’t care how many of the votes they got were so-called protest votes. All they want is enough votes to win. They’ll consider all the votes they get as an endorsement of their campaign promises or past performance to claim a “mandate from the people.”

The news media aid and abet in this subterfuge when, with a Cheshire cat smile, they ask Libertarian candidates, “You know you can’t win, so why are you running?” They don’t want a meaningful response because their intent is to divert the conversation away from any discussion of substantive issues. Their purpose is to marginalize the Libertarian so they can justify treating the campaign as a sideshow to be covered only for the entertainment value.

The Wasted Vote Lie is often accompanied by another big lie, that your vote for a Libertarian “takes away” votes from the Republican or Democrat. Let’s call this allegation what it is – pure and unadulterated arrogance. The ruling elites believe your vote belongs to them and that you’re too ignorant, or too stupid, or too uninformed to use it wisely. The Wasted Vote Lie and all its variations is an obvious and clear symptom of the condition Republicans and Democrats fear the most – an independent thinking voter.

Let me be clear: there is no such thing as a wasted vote. Your vote belongs to you, and no one else. It doesn’t belong to the Republican or Democratic Party, or any party or candidate for that matter. Your vote is your voice; it is one of your unnamed, inalienable rights, the ultimate expression of your right to free speech and self-government. Your vote is the most precious and meaningful gift you can give to any candidate. Your vote is worth more than any amount of money or any number of volunteer hours you may give, which is why politicians lust after it so hungrily. Your vote cannot be wasted, or stolen, or lost – unless you make a decision to do so.

There is no such thing as a wasted vote; even a vote you refuse to cast is not wasted. Restrictive ballot access laws are another device created by the reigning political parties to stifle competition and maintain their grip on power. Your decision not to give the gift of your vote to either of the “two evils” you’re given to choose from is in effect casting a vote for free choice. Just as millions of people fled Communist tyranny in Eastern Europe following World War II, many people who choose to stay home on Election Day are “voting with their feet.”

Win or lose, voting isn’t about picking a winner. Voting is about exercising your conscience. Elections aren’t generally decided by one vote. Giving your vote to a candidate you don’t agree with in the hope that he will do something you like, just because you like his opponent even less, is like giving money to a drunk on the street who asks for money for something to eat. You know he’s just going to buy more booze; he can’t help himself.

While one vote usually won’t decide an election, if enough people vote for a principle the effect will be much greater and will be cumulative election after election. One person can’t clean up the environment, or even clean up a highway alone. But if a number of people each pick up one piece of trash along the road, they can make that highway, a small portion of the larger environment, significantly cleaner.

In the same way, if enough people vote for a candidate on principle they can make a difference even if their candidate doesn’t win. They can send a clear message to the establishment, to the ruling elite, that “Enough is enough.” In the 1984 presidential election, Libertarian presidential candidate David Bergland gave this response to the “wasted vote” question, “If everyone who is fed up with what the Democrats and Republicans have been doing to them for the past several decades were to vote for me, I would win in a landslide.” The same can be said about every Libertarian presidential candidate since.

The goal of this campaign is to offer people the opportunity to cast their vote for something, not against something; to vote for what they want, not against what they don’t want. We want to give people the chance to present the gift of their vote to a party and a candidate who represents their principles, their ideals, their aspirations and their hopes. We want to empower people to send a clear and simple message to Democrats and Republicans that they will no longer tolerate deception and deceit, arrogance and power-grabbing. This campaign is dedicated to the goal that in 2012 every person who sincerely believes in liberty and freedom, and who is outraged by the perpetual and infinite wars fabricated by Republicans and Democrats for the sole purpose of instilling fear and expanding their power, will reject the Wasted Vote Lie and send a loud, clear and unequivocal message to both parties to stop all war.

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

– John Quincy Adams

R. Lee Wrights is a writer and political activist living in Texas. He is the co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Contact Lee at

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