As we enter the final lap of another quadrennial presidential horserace, let's consider again the question of how to vote. This is not just a question of whom to vote for; it is also a question of whether to vote at all. Before deciding whom to vote for, we must, and do (explicitly or implicitly) make a decision about the electoral system that solicits our participation. We should make that decision explicitly, based on a clear-eyed understanding of how the electoral system actually now works.
It's my reluctant but considered conclusion that, in the United States of America today, the only effective way to use one's own vote is by withholding it. An organized, public boycott of the presidential election is, I think, the only tactic, within the electoral process, that might provoke important reforms--including of the electoral process itself--that would make other advances possible.
To be clear, I think voting is a fundamental political right. I have seen how people who don't have that right fight for it, embrace it, and go to extraordinary lengths to use it. Although electoral politics is only one aspect of a thoroughgoing democratic polity and of individual political engagement, it is hard to conceive of a democratic schema in which a transparent, trusted voting process was not important. It may be one among many, but a vote is an important political tool, and a terrible thing to waste.
There's also the noteworthy fact that without honest, transparent elections, there is no possibility of significant change by non-violent means.
That's why I have always made sure to register and vote. For me, in American presidential elections, the most un-wasteful use of my vote has been for some third-party candidate or party whose politics I could actually support. No matter how few votes that candidate got, I thought it was important that support for an alternative politics -- substantively left and at least quasi-socialist -- be registered and recognized. In the present case, the Stein-Baraka ticket and the Green Party would be such an alternative.
At this point, however, given what the American electoral system has become, I have concluded that, even in these limited terms, voting for a third party is no longer a politically relevant gesture.
Why? Because I find the electoral system in the United States to be thoroughly corrupted, untrustworthy, antithetical to democracy, and generally hopeless for any progressive purposes.
Everyone on the left, I think, accepts some version--at this point, a pretty radical version--of that analysis. As a result of court decisions, laws regarding Super PACs, 501Cs, and of the inequalities in wealth in our society in general, the presidential campaign is now an obscene multi-billion-dollar auction. In this cycle, Democratic liberals seem to have forgotten all about the corrupting influence of money on our elections. But there is no straight-faced argument that the billions spent on the candidates does not buy preferential consideration on policies, regulations, and legislation. There is no straight-faced denial that the explicit and implicit commitments made in the private-party, wealthy-donor, fund-raising campaign differ from, and supersede, any of the promises made in the public campaign.