Voting for [Someone Else] Does Not Waste Your Vote

(Image credit: “US Flag Backlit” by Jnn13 is licensed under CC by 3.0)

Many people claim that voting for someone else is a waste of a vote. Below I will try to show why this claim could be false.

To begin, consider the two-party system. Ask yourself, “Is this the best system for nominating the greatest quantity of competent and viable candidates?” Obviously not. In fact the only system that can produce fewer viable candidates is a dictatorship—and you know how we feel about dictatorships in the West! So any other (democratic) election system would be better than the one we’ve got.

That being said, we need a strategy for implementing a better system. We’ve tried creating other parties, but this has not been yet been successful at creating more viable candidates, so we will need to do more (or do something else). One option is to vote for “someone else.” In case it’s not obvious how that would help, I’ll say a little more.

If every year we look at statistics showing how the Big Two soaked up almost all the votes, then people will continue repeating the age-old “voting for ‘someone else’ is a waste of a vote” fallacy. However, if the percentage of people voting for “someone else” increases, then voters will feel increasingly comfortable voting for “someone else” in the next election, which would allow voters to feel even more comfortable voting for “someone else” in the election after that! And once the votes for “someone else” reaches some sort of critical mass, voters will have created a third viable option in US elections! And for those of you keeping track at home, three allegedly competent and viable candidates from which to choose would be better than two!

An ancillary benefit would be that corporations would be less likely to invest in any one candidate. The reason is that, as the amount of viable candidates increases, the risks of investing in a single candidate increase. With two candidates a corporation has a 50% chance of getting “their” candidate into office. With three, they have only a 33% chance. With four, they have a 25% chance. Etc. This risk factor would encourage corporations to (a) invest in multiple candidates or (b) investing less overall or (c) both. Whatever the case, the amount of funds invested on candidates would be more evenly dispersed, which only (once again) increases the chances of having more viable candidates.

So if you are disillusioned with the two-party system, then you should consider voting for “someone else.” Sure they might not be elected this year, but short-term victories are not always the best long-term solutions. If the point is to improve the quality of future elections, then we need to increase the quantity of viable candidates. And to do that, we need more people to vote for “someone else.”


  1. I am no expert on politics, but I would say that the idea of a wasted vote is not a fallacy. First, while your ideal of a gradual shift to 3rd party candidates over time is certainly desirable, I think it assumes that most non-partisan voters are involved with and educated on political issues. I would argue that the people most involved are Democrats and Republicans who are devoted to their party, and not the candidates nominated therein. I don’t see there being enough engaged voters to act as a base for the movement you want. Therefore voting for a 3rd party will probably have no effect for years–if any affect. Lastly, and this is more of an observation, I believe that most of the major shifts in the political scene in America’s history have happened when the two dominant parties were not providing a sufficient response to an issue of the time and a 3rd party was born which supplanted one which was formerly in the dominant pair (e.g. Whiggs supplanted by Republicans). I am not opposed to your idea. I just don’t think the political muscle will materialize to elevate 3rd party candidates, and a 2-party system might just be part of the general makeup of democratic societies.

    1. Your distrust of voters is understandable. This is the most common response I get from people about the wasted vote fallacy. Alas, no matter our voting strategy, our vote can always be overruled by masses of others who might be entirely unprepared to vote. The problem exists so long as every citizen gets one vote. The only way to combat this would be to issue a “to each according to his level of education” rule about voting such that the most educated people get the most votes. Alas, many people find this system prima facie unjust.

    2. Quite aside from the point of this post or our comments is a wonderful infographic from xkcd:

      1. Yes. I found this graph quite interesting!