Voices & Choices

A Voter's Perspective on Wasted Votes

A Voter's Perspective on Wasted Votes

2020 was my first time voting in a presidential primary election. As someone who grew up watching elections from the capital itself, I was so excited to finally participate in such an important process. I followed the debates, did extensive research on each candidate, and prepared a voting plan. As the token Political Science major among my friends, I even created (and regularly updated) an informational presentation of every candidate’s stance on key issues. In sum, I did everything I was supposed to do to prepare for the election.

What I could not prepare for was my candidate dropping out of the race in between the time that I mailed in my absentee ballot and my state’s primary date.

Come election day, my vote was wasted.

I remember exactly when my dad called to tell me that my candidate had dropped out. He tried to soften the blow, I think because he was afraid that I would become disillusioned. And I won’t lie, I was definitely ticked off. I had invested so much time and energy (as many of us did) into choosing the best candidate, and it felt like the rug was ripped out from under me. 

I was not alone in this. In 2020, FairVote estimated that “up to three million votes [were] ‘wasted’ by early voters on dropped out candidates”. Wasted votes are an unavoidable product of the prevailing plurality electoral system. If a candidate drops out, their voters are penalized for voting early–something that is well within their rights. I understood when I dropped my ballot in the mail that I was taking a risk by not voting for one of the safe candidates, but I never even had the opportunity to make my voice heard.

It didn’t have to be this way. 

If my home state of Virginia had used ranked choice voting, my vote would have been redistributed towards my second-choice candidate. I, along with the 3 million other wasted votes around the country, still would have counted. 

Voting reform is not a matter of nitpicking, it is a necessary step toward ensuring fair representation. If the current system is not working for voters, which it is obviously not, then reforms are needed to ensure that every voter has a say in who represents them–even if they vote early. 

Do you have a wasted vote story? Did your candidate drop out after you voted, but before Election Day? Email me at [email protected] with the subject heading “Wasted Vote”.

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