Write-in votes promote democratic participation

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Photo Credit: Lillian Michel | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's note: This column appears in a point-counterpoint regarding the legitimacy of  write-in votes. To find its counterpoint, click here.

Behind a vote cast for a third-party candidate, write-in votes are regarded as one of the most divisive ballot options. Many critics claim that it never really achieves anything and distracts from real political issues. However, to promote a healthy democracy and encourage higher voter turnout, write-ins should be normalized.

Voters aren’t happy with their options, and this disillusion is reflected in their interest in the election, which is down 15 percent from 2008 among those registered. This decline means poor representation and further stratification in our country’s democracy, and combating it should be our top priority. Destigmatizing the option of write-in voting will likely attract those who otherwise feel that their views are not valued. Write-ins have the potential to make voters feel as if their opinions and voice matter and likely help with involving more citizens in democracy.

The perception of write-in votes as nothing more than a protest vote is unfounded. Democracy is supposed to facilitate the views of all people, and a disagreement of mainstream platforms is nothing more than a genuine preference. The right to write-in exemplifies the tenet of the people’s will in our nation’s political process. In fact, of the 13 registered write-in candidates in Texas, most are running as independents on platforms of compromise between the parties, not on pipe dreams of utopian change. Some voters just align more with the specific views of these candidates, especially with such an unusual, off-the-wall Republican nominee.

Many argue that write-in ballots only fractionalize government. To a degree, this claim is true — writing in candidates certainly does detract from Republican and Democratic votes. However, the two-party system is not indicative of a healthy democracy. The two-party system sports its own merits of efficiency, but also makes the often radical agenda that ignites change more difficult. While write-ins may detract from a majority of either party, maybe that isn’t such a bad option for diversifying American political discourse.

Ultimately, the benefit of promoting write-in voting reaffirms our nation’s democratic process. If we are serious about increasing participation in civic life, we won’t characterize write-in ballots as a waste or a stubborn protest, but a voicing of valid opinions. If people are going to disapprove of their presidential candidates, I would rather have them do so at the polls than from behind the computer screen.

Larcher is an economics and Plan II freshman from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @veg_lomein.