Did you ever wonder where Libertarians and Greens come from? Whatís an "Independent", anyway? Have you ever heard of the Natural Law party, or the Socialist party, or the Reform Party?
Perhaps you have heard of some of these, perhaps not. Most of us are familiar with the Republicans and the Democrats, the two major political parties here in the US. Some of us might vaguely recall the names "Whig", or "Bull Moose Party" from our US History classes back in high school. Those who identify themselves as "Democrats" may remember the "Green" party from last election, credited by some on the left for "giving" the election to George W. Bush. Those who identify themselves as "Republicans" may remember the "Reform Partyís" Ross Perot, credited by some on the right for "giving" the two elections previous to Bill Clinton. The implication here being that there are only two "legitimate" parties in the US; that the other parties only act as "spoilers", are usually not a factor in elections, and that if you vote other than Republican or Democrat, you are "throwing away" your vote. By an extension of that argument, one could also say that unless you vote for the person who ultimately wins the election, you have also "thrown away" your vote. After all, your guy lost, didnít they? Which brings up the question, why do we vote? And how do we decide for whom to vote?
The purpose of voting is to elect the "best" possible candidate to office from the group of people running for that office. The meaning of the term "best" will vary from person to person. For some, it simply means "the person from my political party". For others, it is "the person who supports key positions that I support". Still others take the "anyone but the Washington Redskins" philosophy, voting against a particular candidate rather than for someone they support. This can also be termed the "lesser of two evils" approach. Regardless of the rationale, for the majority of voters this is a two-party choice. Indeed, the "lesser of two evils" approach implicitly implies a choice between two candidates.
While the Democratic party has pretty much been here since the founding of the country (originally known as the Democratic-Republicans), many people fail to realize that the Republican party has not. Indeed, the main reason the Republican party is referred to as "the party of Lincoln" is because it was Abraham Lincolnís election as President that legitimized it as a major political party. Before that the Whigs were a major party. So enshrined in our culture has the two party system become that most people, if they think about it at all, probably suppose that it is actually written somewhere in our Constitution. Because of this popular misconception, many people get bent around the axle when something unexpected happens, such as in our recent Presidential election, where many discovered for the first time that in actuality, the President and Vice President are voted on separately in the Electoral College, and that there was a possible set of circumstances whereby, for example, Al Gore could have become President with Dick Cheney as Vice-President.
It hasnít always been this way. Although political parties formed early in the history of our country, they were not met with universal approval. George Washington in particular was no fan of political parties. He favored an approach whereby each citizen weighed the merits of each candidate and then voted his conscious. In his farewell address to Congress, Washington cautioned against political parties, saying "It [the party] serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill founded Jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and will of one country, are subjected to the policy and will of another.". History has shown him to be correct in his assessment.
Nevertheless, we live in a country of political parties, and the question remains, how do we decide. Should we vote blindly out of party loyalty? Can we take a "smorgasbord" approach, and vote for whom we wish without regard to party affiliation? Must we join a party at all? The answers to these questions are No, Yes, and "it depends". We will defer the "it depends" to a later article.
I would argue that voting blind party loyalty is wrong. Careful consideration of the issues must be taken if a voter is to cast an informed and responsible vote. This means, yes, you may pick and choose. And not just among the two major parties. Go back to why we vote. This isnít a horserace. This is not an attempt to pick a winner; its an attempt to elect the person you think best for the job, based on their politics, morals, personal philosophies, and what ever else you deem important for the position. The main reason third party candidates for office donít win is because people believe they canít win and donít vote for them. This is self-fulfilling prophesy. Suppose Adolph Hitler were running for office on the Republican ticket, Joseph Stalin was running for office on the Democratic ticket, and George Washington was running on the Libertarian ticket. Would you vote for Hitler or Stalin simply because they were running on "your" party ticket? Would you not vote for Washington "because it would be wasting your vote"? To what purpose does one vote for an antichrist simply to avoid "wasting" a vote? When does it become the time to stand up for principle and vote your conscience? I know this is an extreme case, but it serves to illustrate the point. One should also keep in mind that Adolph Hitler was elected to office by the German people.
Others may disagree with your voting decisions but thatís fine; they can cast their vote as they wish. You are the one who has to look yourself in the mirror in the morning. I would also suggest that as with all decisions of importance in your life, (and electing a person who is going to be in a position of power over you is an important decision) you should not make this decision without going to your Heavenly Father in prayer, and asking if this person is truly the one for whom you should vote. Listen to the Spirit. Remember that character does matter. What a person has done in the past matters, and what they have said and how they have voted before is an indicator of how they will vote in the future. Donít expect that your candidate has truly had an epiphany several weeks or months before the election and now all of a sudden is pro-life, found religion, and believes in smaller government when their whole career has been the opposite. It happened to Paul on the road to Damascas. Such things however, are rare in human history, and when they happen with politicians right before a major election, are best taken with a large grain of salt.