I plan to vote on Tuesday, for the same reasons I enunciated eight years ago. Nevertheless, I respect the position of libertarians who choose not to vote on grounds of principle (“the whole system is corrupt and I refuse to take part”) or rational cost-benefit analysis (“my vote won’t make a difference, and I might get hit by a truck on the way to polls”). So libertarian non-voters, I’m not talking to you right now.
I’m talking to the libertarians who do vote. To be more specific, I’m talking to libertarians who have found some reason to think that one of the major party candidates is the lesser of two evils. I respect that, too. Even though your vote won’t really swing the election to your favored candidate, taking part in the democratic process often means exaggerating the importance of your vote. Personally, I like to imagine that I represent all similarly situated people with similar beliefs, and then I vote the way I’d like to see the whole group vote.
Thus, if I were in a swing state where conceivably a group of libertarian-minded voters could affect the outcome if they all voted together, I would hold my nose and vote for one of the two major party candidates.
According to the New York Times electoral map, only 7 states are considered “toss-ups”: CO, FL, IA, NH, OH, VA, WI. To these, you might add the 8 “leaning” states: ME, MI, MN, NM, NV, PA (for Obama), AZ and NC (for Romney). If you’re a libertarian voter in one of these 15 states, then I have nothing useful to tell you.
But that leaves 35 states that are solidly in the Democratic or Republican camp, with a combined eligible-voter population of over 136 million (about half that number voted in 2008). None of these states would by any stretch of the imagination get tipped by your vote-of-exaggerated-size. In these states, there is no good reason to vote for Obama or Romney. You can vote your conscience with no fear that your conscience will have doomed our country to the greater of two evils.
And fortunately, there is an excellent vote-of-conscience choice available this year: Gary Johnson. Imagine if everyone like us (that is, libertarians in non-swing states) voted for Johnson. If even 1% of voters were in this category, Johnson would get over a million votes -- which might actually be enough to get some attention, and maybe establish a beachhead for another run in 2016.
Okay, that probably won’t happen. But your vote was never going to make a difference anyway. Not anywhere, in truth, but certainly not in a non-swing state. So why not vote for the only candidate who comes even close to representing your beliefs? Vote for Johnson.
UPDATE (11/6/12): To clarify, I have no particular love for the Libertarian Party, and my argument is not about setting up the LP for future elections. It's about setting up Gary Johnson for another run in 2016, whether as a Libertarian, Republican, or Independent. And it's also about casting a vote of conscience, irrespective of consequences.