For people who know me, it might surprise them to learn that in the four presidential elections in which I’ve participated, I’ve never voted for the Democratic candidate. I’ve voted for a lot of Democrats for other political offices, but when it comes to the presidency, I’ve always had a reason to cast my vote differently.
In 2004, my reason was that I was an idiot. I was less than one month removed from celebrating my eighteenth year on this planet, and was equipped with a set of provincial attitudes that characterize the worldviews (or lack thereof) of a lot of teenage boys from outer-ring suburbs. I cast my inaugural ballot that year by filling in the bubble next to the name of Republican incumbent George W. Bush.
By 2008, I had been thoroughly liberalized by my college education, and even though I was very much hoping for a Barack Obama victory in both that year and his subsequent reelection campaign in 2012, I never voted for him. Accompanying my dramatic swing to the political left was another quintessential ideological development for a college-aged kid—a growing disillusionment with the establishment. I decided to use my voice to cast a vote of dissent towards the two-party system, voting for Ralph Nader and the Green Party in 2008, and some guy from the Socialist Workers Party in 2012. I obviously knew these candidates had no shot at winning, but hoped that a vote for a progressive candidate could signal to the Democratic Party that, if they wanted my vote in the future, they would need to embrace a more progressive agenda.
I used a similar rationale in 2016 when I cast my vote for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. Once again, this vote was less of an expression of my desire of who I actually wanted to win the presidency, and more of an effort to use my voice to help influence a political shift. To be clear, my politics had not swung back to the right. The emergence of Donald Trump had me more convinced than ever that right wing politics in America had gone off the deep end. I was, however, convinced that Donald Trump was going to lose the election, and thought that as the Republican Party sought to rebuild after such a train wreck of a presidential candidate, I’d prefer that party to move in the direction of libertarianism rather than further in the direction of whatever the fuck they had come to stand for under Trump.
But Trump didn’t lose.
And while Trump’s electoral college victory shook me as a person, it’s not what shook me as a voter. What shook me as a voter was how close Trump came to winning the electoral votes from my home state of Minnesota.
Minnesota has the longest running streak in the nation when it comes to electoral votes cast for the Democratic candidate for president. There’s a bit of an asterisk next to that streak, as Minnesota was the ONLY state to send its votes to the Democrat in the 1984 Reagan landslide, undoubtedly because the Democratic candidate was Minnesota’s own, Walter Mondale, and voting for someone simply because they’re from our home state is the most Minnesota thing ever. Nevertheless, the Republican Party has not won the electoral votes in this state since Richard Nixon did it in 1972.
But Trump came damn close. He lost Minnesota by 1.5 percentage points, or just over 40,000 votes in 2016. And if a few more Minnesota voters would have played with electoral fire like I did, he might have won the state.
Which is why I won’t be playing with fire in 2020.
Part of my rationale for the third-party vote has always been that, regardless of how I vote, Minnesota is a safe blue state. I could use my vote to influence other changes that I want to see in politics and still feel confident that my state would be sending all ten of its electoral votes to my preferred candidate. That’s not the case anymore.
President Trump’s frequent visits to Minnesota this election season have not been for the hotdish. Minnesota is now a certified swing state, and that should change how we Minnesotans approach the polls. Our votes are now objectively more important than those of voters from safe blue states like New York and California, or safe red states like South Dakota and Arkansas, and with that added importance comes increased responsibility.
And I’m feeling the weight of that responsibility.
In a different scenario, Joe Biden would be EXACTLY the kind of candidate that would push me towards a third-party vote. He’s too moderate, too old, too establishment, and has a political history that includes too many offensive comments and just enough disturbing allegations.
But in this election, the stakes are too high. Minnesota is in play and the alternative isn’t John McCain or Mitt Romney. It’s a person that, I believe, is far and away the most hateful, incompetent, and dangerous person to occupy the Oval Office in modern U.S. history. And even if that guy manages to squeak out another electoral victory, I won’t be one of the voters that lets him win my state on my watch.
So, I’m voting for Joe Biden. I don’t even view it as a choice between the lesser of two evils. I view it as a choice between one guy that’s evil and one guy that’s not. Joe Biden is a flawed and frustrating candidate for a lot of reasons, but deep down, I really do believe that he’s a good person. A person with morals and integrity and compassion. A person who meets the standards of #MinnesotaNice. A person who’s said and done bad things, but should not be defined by them. I hardly feel the same about Donald Trump.
To those who have similar feelings towards Trump but will vote third-party anyway, I did not write this piece to shame you. Voting is a deeply complicated and personal thing, and as a regular third-party voter myself, I fully understand the reasons one might hesitate to lend their support to the Democratic Party or the candidate they’ve nominated. But I also know that if Trump were to win Minnesota and I had not done everything in my power to prevent that from happening, I’d feel regretfully complicit. If you think you might feel the same, then perhaps a vote for Joe Biden is worth your consideration, too.