A Mea Culpa from a Long-Time Independent Voter
For the last 5 presidential elections where I have been eligible to vote, I have never chosen a major party candidate for president, opting for 3rd parties or write-in candidates like those listed above. I am a true independent in this capacity. But this year is different: for the first time one of the major parties will get my vote. This isn’t a story about regret or shifting from one election to another but a sea change in a whole life’s perspective, represented by a vote for US president.
I see your eyes rolling. Please, let me explain.
In the past, I justified my independent vote, both systemically and in abdication of responsibility. I thought I had good reasons:
1. I’ve only ever voted in non-swing states, Georgia and California, therefore I can vote however I want for president, because it hasn’t made a difference in the results.
2. I believe the 2-party situation is a symptom of an inherently flawed and broken system. So voting for a 3rd party has been my way of putting my vote towards fixing to get enough of a say will help fix that.
3. I believed neutrality was the best approach. I registered voters for non-partisan organization Headcount, I ran a non-partisan voter education media non-profit called SeePolitical. Neutrality was the selfless answer.
Over time, I have come to realize that my reasoning is flawed. First, this is the luxury of a glaring, yet previously unspoken (on my part) reason: Privilege. I have had the privilege to vote 3rd party because the system is set up for me: comfortably middle class, white men. That makes my choice selfish, not selfless.
Among many other reasons that go back to childhood, I chalk up my choice to early identification with Libertarian ideals. Coming from an allegedly conservative New Jersey family with an alleged distrust of government, at first, they made sense: People need the freedom to do the right thing, and government is inefficient when it comes to freedom… which would be great except for that whole privilege thing I just mentioned.
Freedom is only freedom if it’s equally applied and we all subscribe to a basic standard of living. How can this be accomplished without burning down the current system and starting all over again? That’s not really an option, but Libertarian ideals are just that — options that only work in flawless systems, not the flawed and broken system I wanted to fix. Because the system and ideals don’t align, increasingly the Libertarian platform has felt selfish, and, if they don’t watch themselves, they will be increasingly taken over by pseudo-fascists who only really want freedom for one type of person, not representative of freedom for all.
If I truly believe in freedom, I need to stand by those who do not have the same privilege. In the summer of 2019, my friend Nico pointed to the hypocrisy in my Libertarian ideal that all people deserve freedom in our country, when we know that isn’t the case in reality. As a woman of color, Nico reminded me that she doesn’t have my privilege, even in so-called “safe” states like California. The system has failed and continues to fail so many — to use a vote for a marginal cause, like a 3rd party, is nothing short of oppressive at this point.
It is for that reason, I cast my vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris this year. I vote for them not because they are perfect or because I agree with everything they say, but because of what they symbolize. They are the stabilizing bridge to reduce the present factional political descent. In doing so, they set up a future for strong national leaders (hello, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib!), countless local community leaders, and those of us young enough to live with the consequences of the actions of the current administration. The work is starting with increased youth voter turnout. The work towards the true freedom that all people deserve will need to continue.
Until we can stabilize the factional descent happening for, at least, the last 50 years since the Southern Strategy, my naïve view of a multi-party system will be put to rest. It can, and should, be kept as one of several acceptable future scenarios, but the actions we need to take now are to stabilize the system.
If we can accomplish that, perhaps the system isn’t so broken after all, just very scarred. And it is these scars that I falsely thought were flaws, rather than reminders of our resilience. But we can only be resilient if we stand together.
P.S. California voters, if you need to see the difference between the 2 major candidates, the screenshot below is from the Secretary of State’s U.S. Presidential Candidate Statements website. One candidate clearly doesn’t give a shit.