On Throwing Away Your Vote

Email Print

Thirty years
ago, my grandmother lived in Veneta, a small town in Oregon. There
was a proposal on the ballot that year to pass a bond issue to
build this or that public facility. My parents recommended to
her that she vote against it in order to help reduce her future
taxes. She argued that her vote would not count. They persisted.
She went to the polls and voted against it. The proposal produced
a tie vote. The bond issue therefore did not pass.

On that
day, my grandmother did not throw away her vote.

That outcome
has stuck in my memory for a long time. I see it as my patriotic
duty to vote no on all bond issues. To paraphrase Will Rogers,
I never met a bond issue I didn’t hate. Whenever there is a bond
issue on the ballot, I’ll be at the polls to vote against it.

Not only
is this my patriotic duty in my lifetime battle against bloated
civil government, it is in my own self-interest. A failed bond
issue is a blow against future taxes. My vote might just produce
a tie. Think of the frustration that this would produce for local
bureaucrats. “We were so close. If only we had . . . .” There
is nothing like “if only” to make bureaucrats suffer. When it
comes to bureaucrats, I can do no better than to quote Bobby Fisher,
age 15, on why he enjoyed playing chess so much. “I love to see
‘em squirm.”

Oh, yes:
I almost forgot. There are people running for office. I might
as well vote for someone while I’m in the booth.

But which
candidate deserves my vote?


In 1966,
Ronald Reagan was running against liberal San Francisco mayor
(but I repeat myself) George Christopher for the Republican nomination.
The outcome of that election would re-shape the twentieth century.
I did not know this at the time. Reagan vs. Christopher. Who deserved
my vote?

Penn Patrick, that’s who!

Bill Patrick
owned Holiday Magic, a multi-level marketing company that sold
cosmetics. He was rich. He was vocally conservative. He was an
unknown. He didn’t have a chance.

I voted
for him.

I was convinced
that Reagan’s conservatism in 1966 was mostly rhetorical. I did
not trust him to stay the course. For example, I did not believe
him when he said he would never sign a bill that would impose
quarterly withholding on California’s taxpayers. Tax withholding
had been Milton Friedman’s recommendation
back in 1943, when he was working as a bureaucrat for the Treasury
Department. I thought withholding would make paying taxes easier
for people — a bad policy. (“When the cost of something falls,
more of it will be produced.”) As I expected, Reagan reneged on
this promise in his first year as governor. (The story of Reagan’s
non-conservative first year as governor can be found in the rare
paperback book by Kent Steffgen, Here’s the Rest of Him
[1968], a book that deserves to be posted on the Web as an historical

Bill Patrick
received approximately 1% of the vote. Anyone who can get on a
statewide ballot can get 1% if he is the only independent listed.
Obviously, Patrick had wasted his money. But that was his affair.
Had I wasted my vote?

It is good
to discover how many voters are disaffected from the existing
political system. How can we discover this statistic? By allowing
independents, write-ins, and third parties. Fourth parties are
fine, too.

Has any
candidate won a major election as a write-in? Yes. Strom Thurmond
won the Senate seat in South Carolina in 1954. He received 63%
of the vote. Of course, South Carolinians regarded that seat as
belonging to him by some statewide moral authority. So, this was
not a representative case. But it surely did inflict lots of pain
on the Democrats’ honchos in South Carolina that year. They were
going to get even with old Strom, once and for all, they thought.

Some people
think every citizen has a moral obligation to vote. They say,
“If everybody stayed home on election day, there would be no winner.”
Good point! The day that I sense that this outcome is likely,
I’ll go to the polls and write in “Ron Paul.”

The argument
is bogus. Not everyone will stay home. The more people who are
expected to stay home, the more likely that my vote — and yours
— will count. I will then go to the polls and vote. This is my
grandmother’s political legacy to me. There will be a loser that
day. Stick a big wad of “if only” into the ear of a politician.
It will bother him for years.

Back to
Bill Patrick. I had an opportunity to deny Reagan my support in
1966. That seemed like a good idea at the time. I did not throw
my vote away. I registered my displeasure with the Reagan campaign.
Patrick’s utter waste of his own money financed my ability, quoting
Nancy Reagan, to “just say no.”

Was Patrick
a fool? Yes. That money could have published some conservative
books or built some orphanages or lots of other far more useful
things. He was an egomaniac with more money than good sense. He
later died in a plane crash. He had bought an old P-51 and crashed
it. Easy come, easy go.

But he did
me a favor. He gave me an opportunity to say no to Reagan. At
the time, I thought that was a good idea. I did in 1967, too,
when his legislative program unfolded.


All politics
is local. So said Tip O’Neill, one of America’s most powerful
national politicians.

There are
always propositions on a ballot that deserve to be scuttled. I
love to vote against them.

Most people
go to the polls to vote for “their man.” He is only rarely their
man. Instead, they are his career tools. At first, he will tell
them what they want to hear. But the closer the election is expected
to be, the more likely that he will tell the as-yet uncommitted
voters what they want to hear, which is not what his true believers
want to hear. He will start spouting some version of “I don’t
personally believe in genocide, but I don’t oppose anyone’s right
to commit it.”

Your vote
counts locally, just as my grandmother’s vote counted. This is
where activists should invest their time and money: where there
is a possible positive payoff. No one with a controversial worldview
should give a dime to a major national party when his dime could
go to a local candidate, or, better yet, a last-minute postcard
mailing against some bond issue.

But, my
critics may reply, “local politics is not important compared to
national politics.” This is another way of saying, “the average
voter has no effect on anything important politically,” which
is in fact the case.

Presidential elections are rigged. They invariably are a race
between Council on Foreign Relations Team A vs. Council on Foreign
Relations Team B. Susan Huck pointed this out thirty years ago.
The only possible exception to this rule was Calvin Coolidge’s
defeat in 1924 of CFR founding member and Wall Street lawyer John
W. Davis. That was because the CFR was founded in 1921, and Coolidge
came in as President when Harding died in 1923.

When you
vote for a major party’s Presidential candidate, you are voting
for the CFR. If this is what you mean by “not throwing away my
vote,” then you have a strange definition of “throwing away.”


Voting is
a matter of imposing sanctions. By voting for one candidate, you
are inflicting your share of pain on another. There will be a
loser. He will be discouraged. His supporters will be discouraged.
You have done your share in making life unpleasant for a career
politician. This is a good thing.

For every
benefit, there is a cost. The cost is that in inflicting this
pain, you bring joy to the winner. You have done your part to
bring joy into the life of another career politician.

But when
you vote for a third-party candidate, you do your share to inflict
pain on the loser, but you bring no joy to the winner. (An exception
was voting for Nader in New Hampshire in 2000, which helped lose
the crucial four electoral votes for Gore. I regard this as the
political equivalent of writing in Strom Thurmond’s name in 1954.

For every
benefit, there is a cost. The cost is low when you vote for a
third-party candidate. The winner has received no joy from you,
and the loser has received discouragement from you.

The third-party
candidate did not expect to win. His idea of joy has nothing to
do with winning elections. He is not a career politician. That’s
the kind of candidate I prefer to vote for.

I will have voted against all the bond issues.

Don’t tell
me my vote doesn’t count.


Every dime
you send to a political race is a waste of your money unless there
is a possibility that your money may conceivably affect the outcome
of the race. So, don’t spend money on politics unless you think
a win is better than a loss. It rarely is.

Every dime
you send could be used to further a worthy cause. What cause is
more worthy than politics? Most of them.

But if this
is true of your money, isn’t it also true of your time? Every
minute invested in voting could be used to do something more productive.
Is watching a videotape of an old “Wheel of Fortune” show more

Let me think
about this.

OK, it isn’t.
Voting is more productive. It’s more productive for me, which
is what matters to me as a self-interested seeker of benefits
in a world of scarcity. Here’s why.

love to do my share, no matter how small, to make some career
politician unhappy. Voting for a third-party candidate makes no
politician happy, and it makes at least one politician unhappy:
a major party’s loser, who did not get my vote. No politician
is better off, and at least one politician is worse off
. This
is my application of Pareto’s famous law of optimality. (On this
law, see Rothbard, “Toward a Reconstruction of Utility
and Welfare Economics

while I was inflicting my share of pain on a politician, I also
got to vote against a bond issue.

This is
better than watching a videotape of “Wheel of Fortune.” Marginally.

Sorry, Vanna,
but that’s the way it is at my house.

14, 2004

North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.freebooks.com.

North Archives

Email Print