Joe Carter recently highlighted the discussion at Ethika Politika, the journal of the Center for Morality in Public Life, about the value of (not) voting, particularly the suggestion by Andrew Haines that in some cases there is a moral duty not to vote. This morning I respond with an analysis of the consequences of not voting, ultimately arguing that one must not neglect to count the cost of abstaining to vote for any particular office. One issue, however, that I only touched on was that of voting for a third party candidate, which I would like to explore further here.

The crux of my argument at Ethika Politika can be gleaned from the following paragraph:

Not voting is, in fact, a choice, albeit a passive one. When we look to the consequences, it is a choice for the winner, not a choice for neither. Unlike voting for a third party candidate, not voting does not support anything. If a vast majority of people choose not to vote, the result will not be that neither candidate wins. The candidate who gets the most votes will win, take office, and be given power to significantly shape our country over the next few years, no matter how few people actually vote at all.

Thus, I argue that one must come to terms with casting a “passive vote” for the winner by not voting at all. If, after having considered the consequence, a person’s conscience still urges them to abstain, then fine. But too often, I think, people operate under the assumption that not voting somehow exempts them from any responsibility regarding who wins or loses elections. Logically, it does matter, and it is irrational to pretend otherwise.

However, I would here like to focus on a different question. What about casting a vote for a third party candidate? In this case, I think it worth noting that the candidate’s chances of winning any particular election, while not unimportant, need not be the deciding factor. If any third party receives only 5% of the popular vote in any given election, it qualifies to receive federal matching funds for the next election. Doubling the campaign spending power of often ignored voices in our country’s political process is no small matter. If any party can manage to garner 15% support in national polls, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) lets its candidate into the national presidential debates. While I find this criteria unnecessarily high (15%) and somewhat arbitrary (polls? really? why not something more reliable like votes from the previous election?), this is nevertheless a goal worth striving for as well. Indeed, with 40% of voters saying that they are dissatisfied with Obama and Romney, there is room for other perspectives, both from the left and the right, including, of course, Christian voters. Thus, casting a “lesser of two evils” vote for either of the two major parties’ candidate has a cost of its own.

As careful reflection on Christian social thought continues to come to the fore, with more and more people knowing and using terms such as “subsidiarity,” “solidarity,” and “sphere sovereignty,” voting for a third party that one believes better fits the social values of his/her tradition is an option, I believe, worth seriously considering. After all, it would not take very many votes (5%) to make a difference in future elections.

But are there any third party candidates out there who truly fit the bill? Or is every choice truly “equally intolerable,” meriting abstention for the purpose of (hopefully) changing future debates? I’m not sure I have a good answer to that question.

For more on the consequences of (not) voting, read my full article at Ethika Politika here.