Illustration by Shelby Hohl
I am admittedly pretty damned hard on third party voters, and that isn’t going to change any time soon. As I said before, voting for a third party presidential candidate is the electoral equivalent to sending thoughts and prayers, a virtually meaningless act that meant to make the person saying it look sophisticated and free thinking even when the people they are voting for are really, really terrible applicants for the big chair of America.
A pretty common comeback I get for this stance is that my vote for a Democrat in Texas is equally wasted since it’s not going to propel Hillary Clinton or any other blue candidate any closer to 270 votes in the Electoral College. That may seem logical on the surface, but there’s more to it than that.
Let’s get this part out of the way first; the odds of Hillary Clinton flipping Texas are really, really low. FiveThirtyEight currently has her chances in the single digits, and out of 23 polls taken in this state, the best Clinton has been able to do is tie with Donald Trump in a single one. I would love for her to buck those odds, but I’m not going to bet my fez on them.
However, there is way more at stake than just whose wealthy buttocks will sit in the Oval Office over the next four years, and every vote does actually matter. Why? Because the parties look very hard at voting trends in specific areas to see where it’s worth fighting a battle and spending money.
And Texas, though commonly considered a solidly red bastion of conservativism, is definitely a state in dynamic flux, especially down here in Houston and Harris County. It was a regular swing state until 1980, and, more recently, Barack Obama managed to win most of the major urban centers in the 2012 election. A third of the representatives we send to Congress are Democrats, and more people in Texas voted for Obama in 2012 than voted period in 38 other states.
All of this is part of a slow, but growing shift away from the stranglehold Republicans have had on the state since George W. Bush defeated Ann Richards in 1994. That growth is expected to continue as Texas Hispanics are on track to become the majority race in the state in the next 10 – 20 years. That’s not to say every Hispanic Texan pulls the lever for the blue side of the ticket (Texas Hispanics typically lean further right than the national average), but if population trends hold we’re looking a traditionally solid Democratic voting bloc expanding and aging right into political dominance.
The ground work for that is being laid now. There’s a reason Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine are not letting the Lone Star State slide away without getting involved. It may not be the flashy efforts seen in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but they are definitely raising dough and setting their sights on who will be the next generation of leaders from here.
To vote Democrat in Texas is to sign up, in an admittedly small way, for a long-running and very well-organized war to take the state away from the Republicans, who control every branch. Ending that control is terribly, terribly important if you want to prevent the return of coat hanger wards, the establishment of Christianity in our textbooks, and/or rampant Islamophobia.
That fight is simply not going to be won with protest votes. The Libertarian Party in Texas has been at this since 1971, and as far as I can tell the best they have ever managed to do is elect a single Lago Vista City Councilman. The Green Party of Texas, despite actually getting three people including the mayor of Marfa elected, is an even bigger joke. Republicans have taken to funding their petition drives as spoilers for the governor’s race.
Speaking of the governor’s position, it’s one of the main reasons the incremental fight, while boring, matters. Our governor comes up for election during the mid-terms, as does Senator Ted Cruz in 2018. That’s a big problem because Texas literally had the second-worst voter turnout in the country in 2014. Greg Abbott won his race with just 2.7 million votes, roughly a sixth of the voting aged population in the state. Republicans rely on this apathy to stay in power, and one of the ways that apathy is driven is by pushing the idea that a Democratic vote is lost in a red sea.
Beyond the practical aspects of how elections are won and balances of power are shifted, there’s another effect to having a nice, fat Democratic turnout in Texas. Your politics plays a significant part in where you live, which is one of the reasons we’re so politically polarized. That’s not a great thing, but it does make me happy whenever I see Harris County a little blue speck in the angry red map. I want people to know that there’s this liberal place in Texas where we elect gay mayors and have avant garde puppet theater and tout the most diverse population in America.
No third party vote is ever going to forward that agenda a single bit, but Democratic ones do. It’s an annoying, level-grinding way to win, but it’s the only moral option we have.