In this upcoming election, every single vote counts. The term “counts,” in this case, is not meant in a merely quantitative sense, but rather in a very qualitative way. A choice between the two candidates implies a choice between two wildly different sets of values.
Each vote, then, has a telos, or end, that “counts” in the moral sphere. The telos of a vote is the set of values one wants to see implemented in the country, or at least the implementation of a perceived virtue one sees in one candidate and not the other.
The point of this argument, however, is not to defend or oppose a particular candidate (although the choice should be rather obvious to any Catholic), but rather to maintain the position that voting for a third-party candidate is, ultimately, a waste of a vote.
How does the concept of telos play into this argument? One may see the above definition of telos in the realm of politics and use it in defense of a third-party vote.
If neither of the two primary candidates holds onto a set of values that one perceives as the truth, yet a third-party candidate does, then a vote for that other candidate has the telos of that set of values, which is ultimately not a waste in the moral sphere.
What is missing from that particular defense of a third-party vote is the virtue of prudence. Prudence, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, is “right reason in action.” The above argument certainly follows a reasonable structure, but prudence would point out various other factors that have been left out of the equation.
Practicality plays a large factor in prudential decision making. Of course, if morality is totally compromised, then practicality takes a back seat and zeal for the faith takes on its full flame, as seen in the case of the martyrs. But in the case of an election, a third-party vote certainly does not equate to martyrdom of any sort since practicality can be maintained.
Never in the history of the United States has a third-party candidate won an election. That pattern seems to be holding true for 2020 (despite some earlier excitement about a certain “birthday” party).
In regards to the end of winning an election, a vote for a third-party candidate will be of no effect. Since this is the case, the only way one can defend one’s vote of a third-party candidate is the argument from values as stated above.
Practicality, however, would dictate that if an entire set of values cannot be put into action, then it would be better for at least some of those values to be put into action with no greater evil coming out of it.
Thus, the next reasonable step would be to look at the two primary candidates and see which one holds the set of values closest to the one in reference to the third-party candidate, since one of the two has a greater chance of actually implementing those values.
Taken in this light of practicality, the telos of a vote is not the set of values itself but rather the implementation of those values. This definition of implementation, then, provides a substantial argument for the wasteful nature of a third-party vote (with “substantial” taken in a philosophical sense, meaning it can stand on its own accord in regards to the telos of the situation).
There is also a consequential aspect of voting that falls under the direction of prudence. Every vote for a candidate means that one is taken from another. It is the simple result of the law of cause and effect.
In regards to morality, this law of consequence might not necessarily contribute to the telos of a vote, but it is nonetheless an important factor that should be considered prudentially.
In the presidential election of 2000, George W. Bush won Florida by fewer than 600 votes, which proved to be the key factor in winning the entire election. 100,000 votes in Florida went to the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. If even a fraction of those votes went to Al Gore, the election would have turned out very differently. While Nader’s votes were not nearly enough to give him a substantial stake in the election, they still consequently affected the outcome of the election.
If something similar happened now, a vote for a third-party candidate would not only be a waste but would actually prove to be a harm if the candidate who consequently won had a worse set of values than the other.
Prudence would dictate that it would be better to vote for a primary candidate who has a lesser but still good set of values than a third-party candidate who has a higher set of values yet no chance to win the election.
Given these substantial and consequential arguments, it seems very difficult to defend any third-party vote. Now it is up to each person to choose a primary candidate whose set of values most closely corresponds to the highest set of values there is, which is God’s law promulgated through the teachings of the Church.
In this election, however, the choice should be very obvious. But that is another argument for another day.