I've been hearing from a lot of progressives who insist on voting for Ralph Nader or the Green Party's Cynthia McKinney in this year's presidential election, even in the swing states. These third-party voters say that they cannot vote for Barack Obama because they feel that Obama is not a true progressive. And these people worry me.
It's not that I don't like what Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney stand for, because I do. These alternative candidates stand for things like universal healthcare, alternative energy, peace, civil liberties, fair labor, equal rights for women and minorities, and more -- all issues that are near and dear to my heart.
And it's not that I don't agree that Barack Obama's policies are less than ideal, because I do.
My problem with a third-party presidential vote is one of practicality. A vote for Nader or McKinney is a progressive vote flushed down the drain. If we are to believe the pollsters, the race between McCain and Obama is too close to justify a symbolic vote for a third-party candidate.
Many people blame Ralph Nader for Al Gore's loss in the 2000 presidential election. For that reason, many progressive pundits urged him not to run in 2004 and similarly jeopardize John Kerry's chances. But he ran anyway.
This year, it's deja vu all over again. And, all over again, I am frightened by it.
As much as I appreciate the idealism of these third-party voters, the electoral process isn't set up to work in their favor. We've got a two-party system in which third-party votes are potential spoilers.
But there is a way around this.
Some folks are advocating for widespread use of instant-runoff voting (IRV) as a way to eliminate the spoiler effect. In this system, voters do not vote for a single candidate. Instead, they rank the candidates in order of preference. The website
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