Franke: The Libertarian Vote

October 14, 2020

by Mark Franke

What’s a responsible citizen to do given the choices on election ballots these days?

I started following presidential elections as a grade-schooler back in 1960 but 2016 was the first one in which I felt neither candidate was worthy of occupying the White House. And I was not alone in that sentiment as it was also the first election on record in which both candidates polled higher negative numbers than positive.

And, sad to say, both candidates have proven the electorate right in their behavior since.

Here we go again. I didn’t watch the first debate, holding to my resolve to ignore everything politicians say when in front of a TV camera.  Friends, most of whom long ago made up their voting minds, tell me my decision to watch a baseball playoff game instead was the wise one.

I will vote, as I did in 2016, but that vote will be against the candidate and party that I see as the greater threat to liberty and prosperity. The lesser of two evils is still evil, according to Erasmus or some other great thinker, but one can’t help but wonder if gradations in badness still matter. Maybe it’s time to reread Dante’s “Inferno” to learn the real differences among the nine circles in his vision of hell.

No, it is time for me to stop being a cynical curmudgeon and take a more positive outlook on my duty as a citizen and as a positive example to my grandchildren.

My colleague at the Indiana Policy Review, Leo Morris, wrote recently about voting for a third-party candidate in the Indiana gubernatorial election. I have always seen this tactic as self-defeating, almost guaranteed to produce the greater of the two evils.  

Think of the number of votes Ross Perot received in 1992, nearly 20 percent of those cast. One can argue that the Perot voters were disenfranchised and disillusioned folks who probably just would have stayed home on election day if it weren’t for the non-mainstream candidate. Perhaps that is true, given that Perot polled strongest among independents followed by Republicans. Democrat voters were least likely to switch to Perot. Did Perot contribute to or even assure George Bush’s loss to Bill Clinton?  

Prior to that election, a relative told me he was going to vote for Perot as a protest against Bush’s reneging on his “no new taxes” promise. After Clinton won the election, I asked my relative how he felt about his decision. “I wouldn’t have done it if I knew my vote would help Clinton win” was the response. This is a data set of one point but note that Perot’s vote total exceeded the winner’s margin in all but five states, so you do the math.

That’s the conundrum, as Morris pointed out in his column. The United States is a two-party nation and has been most of its history with the current structure locked in since the Civil War era. No third-party candidate in my lifetime other than Perot has been viewed as a serious contender so the votes they get are really ineffective protest votes.  

I don’t know the answer even after reading Morris’ nearly compelling argument which is, and I simplify, Eric Holcomb has such a huge lead that voting for the Libertarian won’t affect the outcome but may send a message. True, but will the right people hear the message and engage in appropriate introspection?  

Still, it’s better to cast a third-party vote than stay home because there are other races down-ballot, many of which give a clear choice or offer a candidate one can be enthused about supporting. I will go to the polls on Nov. 3, in person, but won’t be a cheerful voter. Frightened might be the better adjective.

I hope Morris is right about Indiana’s gubernatorial election being an effective opportunity to cast a third-party ballot. I will continue to be an optimist, if a skeptical one at times. We need to preserve our democracy, the only thing holding the totalitarian mob outside the walls. That, even when distasteful, takes the willing participation of those who love the liberty so many died to preserve.

But I reserve the right to remain a curmudgeon. My 69 years on this mortal coil give me that right.

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar and of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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