Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson argued last night at the Free and Equal debate held in Chicago for supporting a third party candidate. “Wasting your vote is voting for somebody you don’t believe in,” he said. “I am asking everyone watching this nationwide to waste your vote on me … and then I’m the next president of the United States.” And around 1% of the voters in the 50 states are likely to do so, but it won't be because they believe they are wasting their vote.
In the current political environment (and that of the last 200 plus years), third party candidates have been choked out by the stranglehold that the two major parties and their supporters have on the election process. Whether it is ballot access, the ability to be heard at public debates, or being covered by the press, with few exceptions, the system is severely gamed against diversity of opinion. And that is a shame.
So is voting for a third party candidate really a waste of your vote? It depends on your reason for casting it. If you are protesting the current system, than it is likely to be a waste. But, if you are voting to support the ideas of the candidate, it is a good thing. It means that you are paying attention and realize that the two major party candidates are ignoring really important issues.
For instance, if you were waiting to hear either President Obama or Governor Romney or their running mates to discuss global climate change and its impact on the economy, the environment, global politics--you are still waiting. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, "Not once during the three presidential encounters or the single vice-presidential debate did the subject come up." Had you been watching the Free and Equal debate (which can be seen here), you would have heard a lengthy discussion from the Green Party's Jill Stein, the Justice Party's Rocky Anderson, and also Johnson about it, the legalization of marijuana, and other issues that aren't being bandied about by the other parties' standard bearers.
When the candidates were asked what amendment that they would make to the US Constitution, two said that they would have term limits, one said she would outlaw corporations as having the same rights as people, and the other would enact a equal rights act which would be inclusive of women and those with LGBT identities. How many times did Romney or Obama address these topics?
However even the most educated voters need to consider the unintended consequences of their choices (remember Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004?). For instance is imminent peril to the planet more important than who sits of the US Supreme Court? Are assassination drone strikes by the CIA and imprisonment without due process more important than national security or the best a democracy has to offer? These are the tough decisions that voters should be making rather than feeling that they are settling for the lesser of two evils (or that a vote for third party x is really a vote for major party y).
In the end, the best vote is made by the educated voter--and having the strength of your convictions probably doesn't hurt either.