I’m not exactly thrilled that it has come to this.
Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be the next president of the United States of America.
What about Gary Johnson, you say? Or that Jill Stein lady?
Let’s be real, at this point both Harambe and Deez Nuts have a better chance of winning than either of these so-called “options.”
Outside the realm of fantasy land, it’s simple: the next president is either going to be an outspoken orange dude with what may or may not be irredeemably small hands, or email-deleting “Crooked Hillary.”
As a result, we are left with what seems like the classic lesser of two evils scenario. In game theory this is referred to as the “no-win situation.” Trekkies will be familiar with this concept as applied via the infamous Kobayashi Maru.
For the uninitiated (I forgive you), the Kobayashi Maru is a training exercise that simulates a no-win scenario in which you encounter the titular civilian vessel in distress.
In order to save the ship, one must enter a neutral zone, thus violating a treaty and resulting in your own ship falling under attack and being boarded by enemy forces.
Enter the neutral zone, and you and your entire crew are doomed. Choose not to enter the neutral zone, and the civilians perish.
As the term no-win scenario implies, both choices result in inevitable disaster.
In the Star Trek universe, this test has only been defeated once. James T. Kirk managed to circumvent the ethical dilemma by way of reprogramming the simulation in a way that made winning possible.
His justification? He doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.
Many disenfranchised voters, particularly millennials, seem determined to reprogram what they see as a broken political machine that no longer serves the interests of the people.
They see a third-party vote as a way to repair this machine. They see a nation caught in the overpowering, seemingly inescapable stranglehold of a two-party system.
To them, a third-party vote is a way to implement some much-needed change.
But assuming that we are still living outside of the aforementioned fantasy land, no change is likely to come by way of this method.
There is a dirty little secret that everyone knows, but no one acknowledges: a third-party vote is a protest vote.
I know you’re angry. But it’s the truth.
We should have more options. But we don’t. And we can’t. Not under the current system.
While it is both easy and popular to talk about how corrupt the two-party system is, it is far less popular to acknowledge what it is that got us here in the first place.
Elections in the United States utilize a method of voting called First Past The Post (FPTP). FPTP voting is one of the simplest systems imaginable: you get one vote, and the candidate with the most votes is the winner. Sounds logical, right?
It absolutely is, so long as we are assuming that there are only two options on the ballot. Have more than two people running for office? Well, that’s when things get a bit dicey.
FPTP only gives you one vote and is a winner-take-all system. When multiple candidates are presented, there is no way to indicate your second, third or fourth choice: all that matters is who your favorite candidate is.
This is inherently disadvantageous to multi-party systems as it does not take into account the full spectrum of your preferences. While a vote for Gary Johnson signals that he is your favorite candidate, under this system, statistically speaking your preference for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein must be equal.
The problem with this is that your preference might not be equal but is treated as such under the current system. Maybe you love Gary Johnson but hate Donald Trump more than the rest of the candidates combined, but the system doesn’t account for that. Only first place votes count.
This simple fact invariably leads to vote splitting among candidates with similar ideologies. Vote splitting is the primary cause of the spoiler effect, which sees non-winning candidates draw votes away from the most similar candidate on the ballot, virtually ensuring that they both lose.
One of the more recent examples of this phenomenon played out in the course of the 2000 presidential election. Bush won Florida by an official tally of 537 votes, thus securing him the presidency.
Meanwhile Nader racked up 97,488 votes in the state. He appealed to liberal voters. According to RealClearPolitics, the exit polls show that had Nader not been on the ballot the net gain in voters would have been at least 26,000 for Gore. Enough to change the outcome.
In FPTP voters see scenarios like this play out over time again and again, and as a result tend to adjust their votes to the candidates that they perceive as having the most similar views as their own, while also having the best chance of winning.
As a result, FPTP virtually all but guarantees that a two-party system will dominate. This is called Duverger’s Law, and according to rangevoting.org, it is one of the few laws recognized in any field of social science.
This might explain why the last time a third-party candidate won the presidency was in 1860. By the way, that guy’s name was Abraham Lincoln, and the party was the Republican Party.
Instead of opening up third-party options for future elections, it replaced its predecessor, the Whigs, much like had been done to the Federalists before them. It took the chaos of pre-civil war era conditions just to make this happen.
If you want to reprogram the machine, you have to change the voting system. Voting third party does nothing to fix this.
But as it happens, I don’t believe in no-win situations. Okay, maybe I do, but just not in this case.
Trump and Clinton are not equal.
One of them supports stop-and-frisk. He wants to ban all Muslims from the country. He is going to deport millions of immigrants and break apart families. He thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
For him, not only should women be punished for having abortions, but they are often demoted to something almost sub-human: you are either a fat pig or someone that he is going to “grab by the p****.”
The other is arguably the most qualified candidate in the history of the presidency, running on the most progressive platform the party has ever seen. Like most career politicians, she has had more than her fair share of political scandals.
One of them is going to choose the next Supreme Court nominee.
One of them is going to shape the future of our country for the next four years.
We all want to feel like our voices matter and have a candidate that perfectly reflects our political identity. But sometimes that just isn’t going to happen.
We may not be happy about it, but at least this isn’t the Kobayashi Maru. What we decide on Nov. 8 is going to matter.