The Unpopular Vote: Choosing the Third Party Option

On Saturday, I headed off to the early absentee voting booth, where, for the first time in my life, I voted third party.

Though I don’t need to explain myself, I will anyway: I’m a former Republican who voted third party because I’m tired of the issues I care about — all of them — being ignored. I voted third party because every four years I find myself voting out of fear of their candidate, but without confidence in ours. I voted third party because with each election, our choices get worse. If I didn’t vote third party, I’d be once again forced to accept the status quo — the binary position. On or off. One or zero. Tweedle-dee or Tweedle-dum.

I can’t do that anymore.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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We’ve heard a lot of talk this election cycle (and the one before it… and the one before that…) about stopping a great evil by voting for a lesser one. And yet, the only certain outcome of constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is the perpetuation of evil. As for mitigating the damage, when you’re headed straight for a concrete wall, whether you’re going 90 miles an hour or 100 is about as immaterial as you’re going to be once you get there.

We’ve really only been offered one major reason why we should vote for Sen. John McCain: that he is pro-life. Nonsense. He’s not pro-life. He simply admits fewer justifiable circumstances for abortion than Obama. He made his so-called commitment to an authentic pro-life position very clear during his first run for the White House, when he needled George W. Bush during the South Carolina debate for being willing to lead a pro-life platform that didn’t include exceptions for rape, incest, and health of the mother.

He made it even more clear when he said, in a 1999 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle,

I’d love to see a point where it is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.

McCain has changed his stance on this issue during the current election cycle, but has offered no explanation for his reverse. Furthermore, he also supports the expansion of funding for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), which is a non-negotiable position for Catholics since, just like abortion, it entails the willful destruction of human life. In fact, McCain not only supports ESCR, he brags about it.

To top it off, McCain earned the endorsement of Republicans for Choice, even before he won the nomination. They defended their decision by indicating that, after Rudy Giuliani dropped out, McCain was the least pro-life candidate left in the field. According to the group’s founder, Ann E. W. Stone, “[McCain] is [pro-life], but it’s not at the top of his agenda, not like Huckabee or the born-again Romney.”

If that isn’t problematic enough, McCain also gave pro-lifers serious cause for concern when, just last month, he said in the third presidential debate that he wouldn’t impose a litmus test on judicial nominees, but rather choose them by their qualifications — even if they were traditionally supportive of Roe. “But McCain will nominate constructionist judges,” you say. Maybe — if he decides that justices like Alito aren’t really too conservative, or if he avoids his Gang of 14 tendencies when faced with opposition, or if he’s willing to put judges on the SCOTUS who will likely strike down his eponymous (and self-damaging) campaign finance law, or even if he’s had a change of heart since voting to confirm Justices Ginsberg and Bryer.

But assuming McCain does what we hope he will, do we really think the Democratic majority will confirm anyone who will decide cases in favor of life? Will they really risk Roe if they have the power to stop it? Of course not.

If McCain’s ability (and willingness) to make a real difference on abortion is in question, what about his other policies — the policies we’re going to have to live with while we’re waiting for him to do something pro-life?

For starters, his foreign policy is irresponsible and shows lack of restraint — saber-rattling at Iran and Russia is not, for obvious reasons, in our best interest, and neither is indefinitely prolonging our stay in Iraq. His personal volatility is legendary, and his own colleagues in the Senate distrust his ability to control it as Commander in Chief. “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine,” said Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, in an interview with the Boston Globe. “He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”

His stance on immigration is also unacceptable — unlike Obama, who merely supports amnesty, McCain actually co-sponsored it with Sen. Ted Kennedy, whom McCain counts among his closest political allies. He is, like Bush before him, a big spender, and an inconsistent advocate of small government. And in a move that just may have cost him the election, he jumped with both feet into the $700-billion bailout bill, eschewing any semblance of fiscal conservatism.

The intellectually honest traditional conservative has no choice but to admit that John McCain is no fellow traveler. What some have managed to argue — and this is understandable — is that while McCain is awful, Obama is so much worse that it’s only sensible to vote for the Arizona senator with nose firmly held. This position is respectable enough, and is far superior to that held by those who somehow pretend that McCain isn’t an awful choice (predicated perhaps on the foolish belief that when presented with two options, one of them must be good if the other is bad).

Countless pixels have been spilled on Catholic blogs and forums across the Internet promoting the supposedly urgent necessity of voting for McCain. Many of these are based on the following excerpt of a private letter from then-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick in 2004:

When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

And these Catholics would argue, of course, that Obama himself is so grave a threat that his impending victory — which seems, in these waning hours before the election, all but certain — is a proportionate reason itself. The pseudonymous blogger “Zippy Catholic” argues eloquently against this assertion:

Suppose we are contemplating doing act X in order to block a big evil E, where X is not intrinsically evil but doing it involves remote material cooperation with evil. 

A proportionate reason to do X obtains when (1) X is reasonably effective in stopping E without being excessive, and (2) stopping E does not produce evils and disorders graver than E.

Folks tend to make a reasonable case for (2): that is, they make a reasonable case (let’s stipulate, in case you disagree) that McCain winning does not produce evils and disorders graver than those which would follow from Obama winning.

But there is a very strong tendency to ignore (1) completely, treating an act of voting as if it were precisely the same thing as making McCain win by fiat. That isn’t the kind of thing that voting is though: it has very little actual efficacy in making one’s favored candidate win, and yet it has quite a bit of efficacy in exercising influence over the person who votes himself and those within his immediate sphere of influence.

So whether or not there is a proportionate reason to vote for a candidate depends on understanding not only the outcome dependent results of the act, but also the act’s outcome independent results, as well as their relative importance.


In other words, because of the extremely diluted statistical significance of an individual vote, the act of voting has a far more profound impact on the voter himself — regardless of the outcome of the election — than it does on the election results. This reality is intensified whenever a situation arises in which a voter is not voting for a candidate they agree with so much as they are voting against a candidate whom they fear.

There comes a time when we must draw a line which the conscientious voter will not cross. How many violated non-negotiable principles does it take before we’re unwilling to engage in remote material cooperation with one evil to stop another? Each time we vote in this fashion, we confirm that we can be coerced.

So that leaves us with a question: What to do?

The act of not voting as a form of protest is a very different sort of act than not voting out of apathy or laziness; it is a vote of non-confidence in the choices laid before us. However, the problem with choosing not to vote is that as a protest it is deafeningly silent. Non-existent votes cannot be counted or measured by the political machine, and are therefore wasted opportunities.

So for those, like myself, who feel uncomfortable with abstention and downright unable to vote for either major-party candidates, there is the third-party option. The candidates this year aren’t particularly strong, with the vacuum left by Ron Paul, but they are a far cry closer to traditional conservative beliefs than what the dominant parties have offered us. In ten minutes on Chuck Baldwin’s Web site, for example, I found more policy positions I agreed with than an entire election season evaluating McCain. In that same ten minutes, Baldwin secured my vote.

There are some who argue that a vote for Baldwin — or Bob Barr, or Alan Keyes, or Ralph Nader — is a vote for Obama. The logic escapes me. The only vote for Obama is a vote for Obama. If you want to point fingers, point them at the tens of millions of people who are voting for him. A vote for Baldwin, on the other hand, is just that — a vote for Chuck Baldwin.

(I can only guess there’s an assumption that McCain became the pro-life conservative default when he won the Republican nomination. There’s that binary thinking again. In my case, McCain never had my vote, so it wasn’t his to lose or Obama’s to gain.)

After months of angst, my decision to vote third party was simple, regardless of Baldwin’s prospects for victory. Simply put: When you vote for a candidate, you’re telling the other parties that you will support candidates similar to that one. The political field is a lot like the market: If enough people buy a thing, you’ll start to see a lot more of it. Every vote for McCain is another reason for the GOP to run another candidate just like him. Every registered Republican who votes third party sends the message that the candidate we’ve been given is not up to snuff.

If my vote is my voice, it’s time to send a message I can get behind.


  • Steve Skojec

    Steve Skojec serves as the Director of Community Relations for a professional association. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he earned a BA in Communications and Theology. His passions include writing, photography, social media, and an avid appreciation of science fiction. Steve lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Jamie and their five children.

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