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Voting Is More Than an Ideological Purity Test


It's a natural impulse for outsiders--like we in the queer community--to reject the mainstream candidates and lodge a protest vote. But in this election, we must think strategically.

The year is coming to a close, but more important, the general election cycle is nearing its end. We've all had enough. The debates are done and we're in the final days, and now it seems that there's little left to do but contribute (if that's a thing you do), vote, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. This year, voting is anything but straightforward--but it should nevertheless have a specific purpose.

Your vote should effect an outcome, and that outcome must be the greater good. And though voting third-party is often thought of as a viable form of political protest, this year it will not serve the greater good.

I understand (and deeply feel) the queer impulse to buck the mainstream and vote for the most progressive candidate. But this year, we must think strategically.

I won't use this space to champion a candidate, as we've already done so ("Hillary Clinton for President," Oct/Nov 2016). Instead, it's more urgent we discuss the progressive third-party candidate, the Green Party's Dr. Jill Stein--not on her merits, but on the ethics of voting for her. (I acknowledge that some LGBT #NeverTrumps will foolishly consider casting a ballot for Libertarian halfwit Gary Johnson.)

Too few third-party boosters are willing to admit that--like it or not--this is a binary election. Clinton or Trump will be elected. Neither Stein nor Johnson will be elected. Candidates from smaller political parties can get traction in parliamentary systems, but we don't govern by coalitions made of multiple parties in this country. We have a two-party system. Consequently, third-party candidates for president exert virtually zero influence in pursuit of their own party's goals in a general election. In most cases, they diminish the vote count of one or both major-party candidates, and in this case, they could bolster the chances of Donald Trump.

On social media and in articles, some former Bernie Sanders supporters continue to rage against the machine, vowing #NeverHillary and pledging a vote for Stein because they can't hold their noses and vote for Clinton. Stein boosters should consider the following: When your best outcome is achievable, voting for your ideal candidate (Stein) makes sense. When your ideal candidate is not viable--when there's no chance she could win--you must vote for either the viable candidate who is your second choice (Clinton), or the candidate who is not the worst possible option (again, Clinton, as the worst option is Trump). Only in this way do you effect an outcome for the good.

This election must not be an ideological purity test. Voting to declare your progressive bona fides to your social milieu would be cold comfort under a Trump administration.

If you truly cannot in good conscience vote for Clinton, the only voting booths in which you may ethically vote third-party are those in safe Democratic stronghold states. To put it more plainly, it is irresponsible to vote for Stein in battleground states where the race is tight or potentially tipping toward Clinton, or where the polling is within the margin of error. At the time of this writing, those include: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Voting your conscience may sound noble, but in the case of a close race with third-party candidates, in a year in which a thoroughly vile nominee has a chance to take the Oval Office, it is not. If we are to defeat Trump, a viable candidate who would actively do harm to this democracy and its people, if we are to repudiate him so soundly that none of his ilk will ascend to the national stage again for generations, then you must vote for Clinton.

The price our society would pay for Stein voters to have a clean conscience is too great.

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Matthew Breen