The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Permaculture election advice

VoteI promised myself that I wasn't going to start a political debate about the election, but I did want to remind our readers to do their civic duty and go vote.  And in the process I realized I had a lot of nonpartisan (but still very controversial) voting advice I wanted to share.

Vote.  Yes, even if you're disappointed in all the candidates, it is worth going out and voting.  Do your research first, though, so you'll know who all the little guys are because...

Your vote makes more of an impact locally.  Even though it seems like who wins the presidency is the most important aspect of today, your state and local elections will actually have more of an influence on your day-to-day life.  Plus, your vote has more likelihood of swaying the results of elections closer to home (and the issues are easier to understand fully too).  (Speaking of which, I am going to plug one candidate --- if you live in Virginia's ninth congressional district like we do, I have been on Anthony Flaccovento's farm and can personally vouch for his farming techniques, along with his stances on other key issues.  Vote for Anthony!)

Don't choose your political leaders based on charisma.  This is my pet peeve, so I'll try to be brief.  U.S. elections have turned into a cult of personality, which is why the only candidates who get elected anymore are those with deep pockets who can make themselves look like movie stars and turn their families into storybook characters.  Unfortunately, to get that much capital, nearly all of them have to toady up to the big industry lobbyists, so none of them are ever going to vote in such a way as to help the little guy.  If you don't approve of the cult of personality, make it a habit not to look at photos or videos of your candidate or to listen to them speak --- you may think this won't sway you, but it will.  Figure out which issues are important to you, then look up your candidates' voting history (many websites provide this information on various issues) or do some other primary research to figure out who is going to represent the values you espouse, then vote accordingly.

Don't vote selfishly.  There are so many people (and plants and salamanders) who have no say in the election but whose lives will change drastically based on the outcome, so I try to vote for what will make these disenfranchised populations happier and healthier.  Your personal bottom line should not be the deciding factor in who you vote for.

Electoral college mapBefore voting for a third party candidate for president, please understand the electoral college system.  I hear so many people saying they're going to vote for a third party candidate for president, and it always makes me sad.  Yes, I think anyone who runs for president with the full support of the Democrat or Republican party is crooked (see point number three), but you're literally throwing away your vote if you select anyone else.  A candidate has to receive the majority of the popular votes in a state to get a single electoral college vote, so unless you think 50% of the people in your state are going to select the same third party candidate, your vote is worthless.  If you care about this issue, there are many people working to reform our system --- for example --- but simply voting for a third party candidate is putting the cart before the horse.  Your vote for a third party candidate makes a lot more sense at the local level, though, especially if you talk your neighbors into doing the same.

So how's that for a political rant that 99% of our readers are bound to disagree with at least partially?  (And I didn't even have room to complain about all these glossy fliers showing up in my mailbox that aren't appropriate for kill mulches, worm bins, or even the wood stove!)

For less controversial advice, check out The Weekend Homesteader, only 20% of which will drive people nuts.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I agree with one exception. I don't believe that voting for a 3rd party is pointless. I think it accomplishes a few things.

1)Protest Vote - If more people would vote for 3rd party candidates that align with their view America would be a better place. As long as I keep voting, I will vote for the BEST candidate. I will no longer vote against the WORST candidate. As a country we will always be voting between two inadequate candidates as long as we are afraid to vote for someone who is not a welfare queen or warfare puppet.

2) Real change only takes 5% - Once people start voting FOR the best candidate, the two party stranglehold will weaken. A third party needs 5% of the vote to be included in the next election. Third party candidates were not included this year. Sure they were on the ballet, but did you see them on stage during the debates? Nope, me neither. One was actually arrested when she tried to enter the building where the debates were happening. The group that oversees the debates are made up of Reps & Dems who do everything in their power to exclude 3rd party candidates.

I am voting for a third party this year. Not because I think they will win. I don't think that for a minute. I am voting third party because I want to give them a chance to be included in the next election.

Get out and vote FOR someone this year. Choose the BEST for our country!

Comment by Jason Crowe Tue Nov 6 08:46:40 2012
Jason --- These are the arguments I hear over and over, but they simply don't make sense when you consider the way our government is run. With the electoral college system, it would make no difference if a third party candidate was included in the debates, etc. Unless they were likely to garner at least 50% of the votes in several states, the electoral college system makes it impossible for them to win the presidency. If you read up on the history, it has been extremely rare for a third party candidate to get even a few electoral college votes --- take a look at Ross Perot, who was very well known, but won 0 electoral college votes. You're still putting the cart before the horse.
Comment by anna Tue Nov 6 08:54:26 2012
Hi Anna! I have to chime in my support for your pragmatic views. I've been having this same conversation with friends all week, too. I'm certainly an idealist in my own way, but that doesn't change the mathematical reality of our current system.
Comment by Zoë Tue Nov 6 09:07:50 2012
I have to agree with Jason on this one. I see where you are coming from but I believe in voting for the best candidate. It is like a protest vote especially when you don't relate to the ideologies of the 2 main candidates or feel there is much difference between them. I will always vote for liberty and freedom.
Comment by Kevin Tue Nov 6 09:15:17 2012

Camus said, "What better way to enslave a man than to give him the vote and call him free." What are our choices when all but two parties are suppressed and big money owns both?

Change happens only when enough people refuse to play by the rules. Voting for a third party candidate might not be enough to cause change, but it can be part of a change strategy. How? If enough people stop voting for the lesser of two evils ( a strategy that gave Germany Hitler), but instead vote for candidates who better embody their beliefs, the lesser evil parties are weakened, and might be motivated to change to a more positive direction--as did the Democratic party during the civil rights movement.

You are right that not much can be done on the presidential level. Good politics doesn't trickle down, it trickles up. I, too, have known Anthony, and worked with him on projects like CJE. Campaigns like his are where we should spend our sweat equity.

Comment by Errol Tue Nov 6 09:33:53 2012

I agree with your thoughts on local elections being a bigger reason to go out and vote. Honestly, I might not have bothered to vote today if it weren't for the local/house races. Plus we had a long list of proposed constitutional amendments for Louisiana this year (and any other year that I've seen the ballot.)

As for third party, I agree with the majority of others who have sounded off in the comments. Voting third party isn't going to garner any electoral votes nor is your candidate going to have any chance at presidency, but depending on where you are, enough third party votes can sway the election this year and force the major parties to pay more attention next time around. Weakening the two-party system is a part of the vote, as others have said. It's not the only strategy to employ, but it's not entirely fruitless either. Also, without that 5%, third parties have to fight in the courts to be on the ballot in every state they want. If they get 5%, automatic placement on the ballot is a big deal and can save lots of time an energy the next time around-- meaning more time to get their message out, more publicity, maybe even more opportunity to challenge the electoral college system as a platform. Without any demonstration of public support (via popular vote counts) how would third parties show financial supporters and others that there is any desire or need for a shift from the electoral college system?

In certain elections, I think voting third party can be a strong statement, and it can be effective. That's especially true if you live in a state where you know one major party candidate is likely to swamp the other by 10+% anyway. As the two major parties continue to ignore "non-competitive states" we may, someday, see an interesting shift to third party candidates who actually do visit those states and find support there.

If I were in a swing state like VA, I might be more inclined to pick one of the two major parties and make my vote count for someone who stands a chance of becoming president. Otherwise, it looks like just about any vote for anyone other than a republican is going to be a "throw away" vote in Louisiana this year.

Comment by Sara Tue Nov 6 11:24:53 2012

Hi--I voted Dem. to support Obama's Affordable Health Care Act, such as it is. Had not researched state candidates, so had no one to write in! So left it blank--I have no idea how to write in, and hope someone does try, and can tell us!

I agree with Errol, Jason and Kevin. I also think that unless we reform the Electoral College system I am only going to vote locally next time. But to prevent a war-monger, we are forced to vote for the lesser of two evils, nationally... I also feel that all those who cannot vote because of Sandy are really the most important of us, and we have to figure out how to protect them. Last--if any of you feel you that your right to vote has been challenged, call 866-OUR VOTE. Report any harrasment from "True the Vote", esp. in VA!

Comment by adrianne Tue Nov 6 11:36:48 2012

Zoe --- "I'm certainly an idealist in my own way, but that doesn't change the mathematical reality of our current system." It's the fact that so many people don't understand the math that disturbs me the most. (Actually, I didn't understand it until I started digging either, which is sad --- isn't that what our mandatory high school government class was supposed to be for?)

Sara --- "In certain elections, I think voting third party can be a strong statement, and it can be effective. That's especially true if you live in a state where you know one major party candidate is likely to swamp the other by 10+% anyway." Excellent point. And you're totally right that I'd feel much differently about voting for a third party candidate if I wasn't in a swing state. When I used to vote in Tennessee (and had no chance of ever voting for a winning presidential candidate), I was much more likely to vote third party.

Mom --- "I have no idea how to write in, and hope someone does try, and can tell us!" My understanding is that write-ins are completely worthless. A lawyer friend of mine explained that the write-in candidate has to be registered as a candidate (I believe), or the write-in votes are just thrown out. I haven't researched that as thoroughly as the electoral college, though.

Comment by anna Tue Nov 6 11:53:50 2012

Hrmph... can't disagree. Especially that last point about worthless glossy flyers. Horrible mulch material.

One note about the 3rd party issue. There is something to be said for instant runoff voting systems and advocating for them at your local election level might be a good spot to start. Who knows, we do it for the local elections maybe some states will switch to it statewide and then that makes the electoral college system look a bit antiquated, no?, and change can come from that one start asking for that for the mayor's race and school board candidates.

Comment by c. Tue Nov 6 11:59:37 2012

@Anna: You make some excellent points. One can debate the merits of the electoral college, but from the viewpont the founders it made sense, I think. It seems par for the course that a Democratic president has to deal with a Republican congress and vice versa, which tends to constrain what each can accomplish. IIRC, one of the main goals of the Articles of Confederation (which preceded the current U.S. Constitution) was to limit the power of the federal government. It could be argued, I think, that the set-up you now have has at least partially inherited that.

But a two-party system limits choice too much, I think. Here in the Netherlands we have a multi-party system. Having more than two parties (that are really different, in the sense that the Democrats and Republicans often aren't from my perspective) gives you a better chance to find a party that matches your standpoints, I think.

On the other hand, I think Churchill said it best:

"Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

@Errol: Hitler never got a popular majority vote. In the last election in November 1932 before Hitler grabbed power, his NSDAP got about 1/3 of the votes. Using the SA to keep opposing members out of parliament and with some false promises to the remaining centre party he subsequently managed to pass the enabling act which essentially made him dictator.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Nov 6 16:15:31 2012

C, I like your solution a lot! Yet more reason to be most involved at the local level.

Roland --- I don't really have anything to add to your excellent comment except...I find it disturbing that you know more about U.S. government and history than the average American. :-)

Comment by anna Tue Nov 6 16:19:33 2012

History is important. I agree with Santayana that

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

U.S. politics tends to be dominated (in my view at least) by intense partisanship rather than any real issues. What I find interesting in that respect is that most of the Founding Fathers rejected political parties as divisive and disruptive. It seems they had a point.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Nov 6 17:32:29 2012
What makes me sad are people who think we deserve so little that they continue to vote for candidates from the two major parties despite all the evidence that they hold us in contempt. I vote Libertarian, knowing that the presidential candidate will not win, because even a few percent of the vote in a close race can affect the outcome, thereby sending the message that we are not to be ignored.
Comment by Dean Tue Nov 6 19:41:15 2012

The way U.S. elections are structured (plurality voting) favors a two-party system. This is called Duverger's law. So if you want more parties, you'd have to change that first. Proportional representation on the other hand promotes multiple parties.

Of course the two existing parties will hardly be in favor of a change in the system, for obvious reasons.

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Nov 7 01:17:54 2012
Anna, love your blog, been reading through the archives for a while. I've never commented and this may get lost in the already aged discussion but I thought I would make a pragmatic note about the third party vote that I don't think anyone touched on. While reaching 5% of the popular vote doesn't guarantee a third party equal access to all state ballots (since all states have different, separate requirements) or equal access to debates (since debates are based on polling and not votes), reaching 5% of the popular vote is the minimum required by the Federal Election Commission to be eligible for partial public funding by the Presidential Election Campaign Fund in the next election. At 5% that's a little over $9 million which could make a big difference. I hold no hope a third party will ever get elected but the more funding, the more visbility, and the greater chance to steer the national conversation. Sources: and
Comment by Ryan Wed Jan 23 15:14:17 2013

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