People who believe in protest votes do so because they confuse sending a message with receiving one.
You can send any message you like: “I think Jill Stein should be President” or “I think David Duke should be President” or “I think Park Eunsol should be President.”
Similarly, you can send any message you like by not voting. You can say you are sitting out the election because both parties are neo-liberal or because an election without Lyndon LaRouche is a sham or because 9/11 was an inside job. The story you tell yourself about your political commitments are yours to construct.
But it doesn’t matter what message you think you are sending, because no one will receive it. No one is listening. The system is set up so that every choice other than ‘R’ or ‘D’ boils down to “I defer to the judgement of my fellow citizens.” It’s easy to argue that our system shouldn’t work like that. It’s impossible to argue it doesn’t work like that.
Clearly this is most obvious in an electoral system based on an electorate, like USA, or small constituencies, like Great Britain, but it is to a large extent also valid in countries with more sane electoral systems, like Denmark. If one votes for a party that has a chance to be represented in the parliament, the vote matters. Blank or invalid votes work as a protest, but no-one will ever hear about it.
Shirky’s text and reasoning is worth your time and he hammers in his point with:
Throwing away your vote on a message no one will hear, and which will change no outcome, is sometimes presented as ‘voting your conscience’, but that’s got it exactly backwards; your conscience is what keeps you from doing things that feel good to you but hurt other people. Citizens who vote for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, or nobody aren’t voting their conscience, they are voting their ego, unable to accept that a system they find personally disheartening actually applies to them.
Seth Godin has touched on the subject in “How they talk you out of voting“:
The easiest way to win an election is to get the people who might vote for your opponent to not vote.
Vote as if you’re responsible, because you are, especially if you don’t vote.
Vote as if it’s not anonymous, knowing that you’ll have to explain it to your grandchildren.
There’s also this video that explains the connection between votes and the focus of politicians – also from 2016, back when the world was a lot simpler:
Yes, I know that it is from Cracked. But here it doesn’t tell you anything about the validity, but rather the tone of the video.
I’ll also add this, slightly paraphrased from something Monica Lewinsky recently shared:
A vote is not a Valentine, you aren’t confessing your love for the candidate. It’s a chess move for the world you want to live in. You want the best overall team.