In the aftermath of the primaries on March 15, Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic presidential nomination looks more and more inevitable. This sense, propagated by the media at large, has led many Democrats and Hillary supporters to adopt the phrase "vote blue no matter who." The saying, especially in this election cycle, is an expectation that Bernie Sanders supporters will "fall in line" and vote for Hillary Clinton come November. Reality paints a different picture for this year's prospective voters.
As I wrote last week, the power of the Independent voter is incredibly potent. Not only do they make up the largest voting block in America today, but they also hold the most sway in nationwide elections. The transition of many Independent voters to the two major parties over the past year shows the impact that this election holds on the future of the nation. Whether discussing Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, populism has drawn people to the two major institutions with a death grip on our country's democracy—let us not forget that this country was not founded with a two-party system in mind.
George Washington's farewell address famously warned us of the dangers of a partisan government. "They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, [...] to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction." While these words of wisdom by George Washington may ring true even today, after more than 200 years of partisan politics, it would seem that we still have yet to realize their meaning.
Our two major parties exist as loose coalitions with varying degrees of agreement. The rise of Donald Trump shows just how fragmented the Republican Party is, even when compared to the Democratic Party. The tendency towards two parties rises from our first past the post system. While it may not be ideal for a modern democratic republic, it is what we have until the two parties decide they are sick of controlling our government (it should be noted that other nations have multi-party systems, even with first past the post). With two parties dominating politics in our nation, it would stand to reason that voting otherwise would be a "waste" of a vote. After all, coalitions don't exist without reason, right?
The problem with "vote blue no matter who" is that it plays directly into the party politics we've all become accustomed to. Third Party or Independent candidates have posed a threat to the two party system in the past, and have managed to hand presidencies and congressional seats to minority candidates by splitting the vote. In election years such as this year's, more could be at stake than in previously, with a racist demagogue against a hawkish heir presumptive. Now more than ever, the small but enterprising minority has found its way to control the nation. It is no surprise then, that many are considering (not for the first time) their options and seeking candidates outside the dichotomy.
Party members and Independents alike need to reconsider what their vote truly means. While tactical voting is a popular way to vote, it should absolutely not be the default. There are no grounds for any supporter of a candidate to support a fellow party candidate by default. A Cruz supporter is under no obligation to vote for Trump, and a Sanders supporter should likewise not be expected to vote Clinton by default. To assume otherwise is a travesty to our democracy and counter to any shred of electoral rights we have left. Regardless of the year or the election cycle, vote your conscience. It doesn't matter if that vote is third party or strategic; you've exercised your fundamental right. Congratulations.