by Shannon Spencer
In the several months prior to this fall's state elections choosing a candidate for the House and Senate became a very real issue for residents in some states because rather than the regular struggle between Democratic and Republican candidates there were three candidates in some of the races. The third party candidates were running on the Green platform. Their platform addressed many of the concerns of citizens, including my own, which were not represented by either the Republican or the Democratic candidates' platforms. These issues ranged from the environment to community issues. It would seem that the obvious choice for all of the citizens who agreed with the Green platform was to simply vote for the Green candidates and leave it at that. However, in numerous conversations that I had with residents, both friends and acquaintances, the concern that kept being raised was that while the individual citizens may have felt that their interests were best represented by the Green party candidates, they felt that these candidates did not have a chance of winning. Therefore they were going to vote for one of the other candidates rather than split the vote -- the "lesser of two evils" argument. The entire country watched this happen when H. Ross Perot ran in the last presidential election and we may well see it happen in the upcoming presidential election if there is one (or more) "third-party candidate", which is to say that this is an issue that transcends the boundary of the voting district in which I live.
The dilemma presented here is this: should you vote your conscience, knowing that your candidate will lose? or should you vote for a less appealing candidate, who does not represent the issues that are important to you but who has a better chance of winning?
We too frequently take this dilemma lightly -- we ask how it really matters or we don't ask at all. We have become complacent after years of representation that does not live up to our standards and in some cases we have come to expect less from our representatives. We complain bitterly about the political process and the lack of options, but when a good option comes along we give in to the system about which we have complained. Voting for a third party candidate is not a throw away vote as I have heard said. By voting your conscience you take a stand for what you believe in -- you make a statement to the world and, maybe more importantly, to yourself that you won't compromise your beliefs, your hopes, your dreams.
By voting your conscience you are taking part in the political process as it was designed to be taken part in -- you are not voting out of fear instilled by the system but because you believe in something. If we give in to our fears of what might happen, we are gambling with our futures. We are not living by our own morals and ethics. If, on the other hand, you give up the fear and vote (or do anything for that matter) the way your conscience tells you to you are doing much more than just casting a vote. You are taking a stand on something in which you believe and by doing so you are affirming your role as an important member of our community -- a member who cares about its future and who is willing to take a part --no matter how small-- in shaping that future. You are making a statement that you cannot be controlled by the politicking of those who would have you believe that you should fear the political system and that you should vote this way or that way to change it. If you vote out of fear you instantly take the country one vote away from change. Change is not inevitable -- we as citizens must make it happen. Apathy and fear will only lead to more status quo from politicians. By voting with our conscience rather than out of fear we show those people who are still fearful that there is another option and that there are people who will take it and perhaps in the next election there will be even more people who will go out on the political limb and vote for a candidate who may not win and one day maybe they will win.
Shannon Spencer is a doctoral student in cultural geography at Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
copyright 1995, Shannon Spencer