A Winning Vote

December 13, 2007 on 3:21 am

The surest way to cast a winning vote in a Presidential election is to cast it aside. An uncast vote, you see, benefits only the winner. Why? The winner did not need it to win, and if enough of those not cast had been cast the other way, the winner would have been the loser.

There may be no better example of this than the 1968 Presidential election, won by Richard Nixon over Hubert Humphrey.  Nominated at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that July, Humphrey was President Lyndon Johnson’s incumbent Vice President and champion of liberal Democrats everywhere. The convention, perhaps the most fractious and violent in the country’s history, had chosen Humphrey over Democratic senators McCarthy and McGovern, who had campaigned strongly against U. S. participation in the War in Vietnam.

To many in the party, the Convention was a sham. For them, the party bosses had handed the nomination to Humphrey on the instruction of LBJ, despite wide-spread opposition among the delegates to the war. Perhaps more importantly, the violence of the anti-war demonstrations had the party faithful – North and South, labor and liberal – questioning its direction and leadership.

Whatever the dynamics of the election, history records a 27% decline in votes cast for the Democratic candidate in the 1964 election won by LBJ as compared with Humphrey in 1968. The absolute numbers are perhaps more telling. The 43.1 million votes cast for the Democrats in 1964 shrank by 11.9 million to 31.3 million in 1968, an election won by Richard Nixon with 31.87 million votes, a margin of barely 500,000 votes.

While the candidacy of former Alabama Governor George Wallace in that year’s election no doubt played a heavy hand in the final numbers, the fact remains that a good many Democrats stayed home that November. Given Nixon’s winning margin of less than one percent of the votes cast, it is more than plausible to suggest that those Democrats who failed to vote that year put him in the White House. Leaving history to judge the ultimate impact of Nixon’s election, responsibility for it must certainly be shared by those who would have cast their vote against him but decided to cast it aside.

This said, there is a voting technique that allows the citizen a voice without having to vote for a particular candidate. Register to vote, go to the polls, and vote for every position except that of the presidency. If enough were to do this, commentators may be moved to note that while this many millions went to the polls that day, more than so many millions of these abstained from voting for either party’s candidate. While no more than a footnote to history, if that, it is a statement nonetheless. The important thing is that no matter what you do with your vote, you do it on purpose, and with purpose.

A vote is a terrible thing to waste.



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