“If you don't vote, that's a vote for Trump. If you vote for a third-party candidate who's got no chance to win, that's a vote for Trump.” That’s how President Obama recently put it. Mrs. Obama last week made a similar argument. So did Bernie Sanders. And many of Hillary Clinton’s surrogates have done likewise, suggesting that in this “binary race” one must choose either the Democrat or the Republican — or else “throw your vote away.”
The president, the first lady, Clinton’s erstwhile opponent, and HRC’s supporters are right: every ballot that does not have HRC’s name marked makes it more likely that at high noon on January 20 of next year Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. The choice, therefore, is binary: Clinton or Trump, one or the other. For all their potential, neither Libertarian Gary Johnson nor Green Party candidate Jill Stein have a snowball's chance. (Between them, they might rack up 10 percent of the overall popular vote.)
This stark reality, however, is no solace to the millions of Americans who are dissatisfied with the candidates occupying the top spots on the Democratic and Republican tickets. So what are Johnson and Stein supporters supposed to do? Vote for Clinton to stop Trump? Vote for Trump to stop Clinton? Cast a ballot for their preferred candidate and let the chips fall where they may? (Remember TR in 1912 and Ralph Nader in 2000.)
With five weeks to go before the November 8 election, most of my pro-Stein and pro-Johnson friends — informed and thoughtful, all — are as against Trump as they are for their candidate. With so much at stake, however, they’re wrestling with which name to mark on Election Day — the person they really want or the only person who can stop Trump.
The struggle is real. Our name-only ballot doesn’t give them, or any of us, an opportunity to wholly express our political opinions. Minor-party supporters can’t vote for a major party nominee without entirely abandoning their preferred candidate. Nor can HRC or Trump voters express how eagerly or reluctantly they’re voting for their candidate. Our ballot is black and white — it’s Trump or Clinton or Stein or Johnson. No hedging. No nuance. No gray.
Which brings up these questions: Why can’t our ballots better reflect the array of feelings citizens carry to the voting booth? Why can’t a citizen more fully express his or her view when casting a vote? Why not give the people a ballot that allows declaration regarding gradation of support? Something like this, for example:
- I am enthusiastically voting for __________.
- I am hopeful that my vote for __________ is the right choice in this election.
- I am halfheartedly voting for __________ because there is no better option.
- I actually prefer __________, but for strategic purposes I'm voting for __________.
Sure, this sort of ballot reform would make the voting process a bit more tedious, but it would also do several things: 1) provide an opportunity for all voters to declare a nuanced choice; 2) eliminate the winner’s predilection to declare his or her triumph a mandate of heaven; and 3) give every idealistic and hopeful minor-party voter who doesn’t want to risk a Trump or Clinton presidency a way to vote for a major-party candidate and show support for the candidate of their heart.
There are dozens of changes we need to make in how we elect a president. (Like these.) Creating a ballot that gives major- and minor-party voters the right to speak their minds is one of them.
—Rodney Wilson holds graduate degrees in history and religion and teaches both at a community college in Missouri.