Not too long ago, I stated some reasons I was given as to why people did not vote in the Wisconsin primaries. Not among those reasons, though, was one of the most common reasons people don't vote, one of if not the major factor in the coming election, and why one of those primary nonvoters does not intend to vote in the general: the unwillingness to vote for the "lesser of two evils".
Granted. The field isn't exactly what one would call "strong" this year. In fact, some of the matchups just plain suck. Nevada in particular is facing a particularly dreadful decision, where they know Sharron Angle bites, they know Harry Reid bites, and yet one of them will wind up a Senator at the end of it all. The primaries might have eliminated your favored candidate. There might not have been anyone you'd consider acceptable to begin with. Maybe everyone good just got driven away from serving in politics and these dregs of society are who's left. The candidates set before you blow. Fair enough.
Don't think of it like that.
The purpose of your vote is so that you can set the best possible course for the future of you, your friends and family, your town, your state, your country, the world, whatever scope you want to use. The best possible course. Not necessarily the perfect course, but the best one possible given your options. Is not the lesser of two evils the best possible course in a two-horse race? Go for that. After all, every vote not cast for the lesser of two evils brings us that much closer to the election of the GREATER of two evils. And that's no good for anybody. It's not like the election will be canceled because you, or all your friends, or in fact half the country stayed home. Some elections can easily get all the way down to 15% turnout and the winners of those will have just as much authority to rule as a guy that wins with 100% turnout. There's no turnout threshold below which they cancel the election. Some places will even force a result of some sort even if nobody votes, candidates included. They might rerun the election with the same candidates and make you pick one anyway, as happened in Centerville, Mississippi as Parade Magazine reported on January 2, 1994 when nobody voted in a race for board of aldermen. (Denny James ran unopposed and got 45 voted in the rerun.) The incumbents might be able to simply appoint themselves back into office, as Pillsbury, North Dakota found out in 2008. Were such a thing to happen in the Presidential election, all that would happen is nobody gets 270 electoral votes, and when nobody gets 270 electoral votes, the election is taken out of the voters' hands and into those of Congress, with the House voting for President and the Senate voting for Vice President. (Hope there isn't a split Congress when that happens.) This is assuming that any tied states- tied at zero, but tied- do not simply decide to hold a runoff election and make you do it again.
What if there's a third party, and you think them to be better than the two major parties? Well, go for that then. Be aware that the greater of two evils may be hoping you do that, so as to siphon votes off of the lesser of two evils. In fact, the greater of two evils may have actively inserted that third party into the race, and funded it to a small degree, for the specific purpose of siphoning your vote off. But if you weren't going to take the lesser of two evils anyway, well, go for it.
Another thing to consider are the age-old enemy of clean politics, the lobbyists. The people that are tossing so much money into the race, more than you can afford or are even allowed to donate on your own. The people that have done so much to make the campaign as ugly as possible. The people that think, if they make things dirty enough, they can drive you to stay home.
Oh yes. This happens. This is a time-honored tactic: disgust you so much with politics that you outright refuse to vote. If you're refusing to vote on the lesser-of-two-evils basis, it looks like they've done their job. And that's good for them. It's one vote closer they are to getting their way.
After all, whether you vote or not, the lobbyists will vote. Do you think they're going to go through all this trouble and then stay home themselves? If absolutely nothing else, by going to vote, you dilute the effect of the lobbyist bent on driving you away. If you share a constituency, your vote directly cancels out that of one lobbyist. If you don't, your vote OUTSHOUTS every single out-of-constituency lobbyist that helped drag that race into the mud. And while one vote may not seem to you as very valuable, going into the booth knowing you're about to negate the vote of the dirtiest, most corrupt son of a bitch in the area- and overrule a whole slew of out-of-state slimeballs who don't know anything about your hometown but are willing to lie incessantly to decide its fate- THAT should feel pretty damned good.
"I think that by staying home, I'm sending a message." No. You're not. Really, you are not. You may think your silence is deafening. No. Your silence is silence and nothing more. By not going in and at least voting, you send no message at all. If anything, you FORFEIT your voice. If there is one type of citizen that is reliably, routinely ignored by elected officials, it is the citizen that did not vote at all. Why SHOULD they care? What are you going to do if they know that screwing you over will just make you stay home? Are you going to stay home even harder?
And there is one more effect that sucking it up and voting the lesser of two evils has. After the elections are all over, one of the things the parties look at is the margin of victory. The people who win in crushing, one-sided blowouts will be likely to be primaried from their own side in an attempt to go even further in that direction, if they are opposed at all. The people who only gain narrow wins are more likely to be vigorously opposed by the other major party next time out. By not voting for the lesser of two evils, you skew the voteshare in favor of the greater of two evils a little bit more than would have otherwise happened.
Which means that by not finding someone worthy enough to vote for in this election, you help ensure that there won't be anyone worthy enough next time either.