Wasted Vote Syndrome: Making It Count At The Last Minute

Support for third party candidates fades in the end

Voters leave after casting their ballots at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016. Walter Shapiro writes that “Wasted Vote Syndrome” causes support for minor party candidates to fade by Election Day. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Voters leave after casting their ballots at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016. Walter Shapiro writes that “Wasted Vote Syndrome” causes support for minor party candidates to fade by Election Day. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 8, 2016 at 4:29pm

NOTTINGHAM, N.H. — When Lauren Chase-Rowell set out to vote late this morning, she was planning to cast a protest vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. But when Chase-Rowell, a landscape designer, was standing on the voting line at the Nottingham School, she had a political conversion experience.

“There was a family in front of me, all voting together, all happily voting for Trump,” she explained as we chatted on the sidewalk outside the school. “And I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t vote for Stein. So I voted for Hillary Clinton.”

Chase-Rowell, a registered independent who has lived in this southeastern New Hampshire town of 4,800 people for 31 years, embodies the Wasted Vote Syndrome that often leads minor party candidates to fade between the final polls and Election Day. In her case, fear of Trump trumped everything. “He scares me,” she said before correcting herself. “No, he terrifies me.”

Nottingham, a town with more pickup trucks than Mercedes, was evenly divided in the 2012 election as Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama here by a margin of just 15 votes out of 2,743 cast. But this year, with 1,486 votes already recorded by 12:30, town election moderator Bonnie Winona MacKinnon worried that before the polls close at 7:00 she might run out of the 3,800 ballots that she had been given by the state. “You’ve never seen voting this high,” she said.

There is no scientific precision to a lone reporter trying to do an impromptu exit poll at a single polling place. But the journalistic justification for standing outside this school on a perfect New Hampshire fall day — with the leaves in their last burst of color — is that talking to voters who have just cast ballots can produce a level of raw honesty that can be lost in traditional exit polls.

New Hampshire voters this year seemed more skittish than usual about revealing their preferences and having their full names published. As Denise, who brought her 10-year son Zackery with her as she voted for Clinton, explained, “I don’t want my last name used because I don’t want to get hate phone calls.”

As a small woman named Pat left the polling place, she turned to her husband Dan and said with a tinge of sadness in her voice, “What’s done is done.” While Dan is an enthusiastic Donald Trump supporter, his wife voted the straight Republican ticket with the enthusiasm of someone purchasing cemetery plots.

Even though New Hampshire is a swing state and the polls show the Senate race between GOP incumbent Kelly Ayotte and Gov. Maggie Hassan to be knotted, there was no presence from any top-of-the-ticket campaign in Nottingham. Instead, the sign waving was conducted exclusively by state representative candidates (the legislature has 424 members) and their supporters. As Alden Dill, a bearded farmer running for the state House as an independent, put it, “It surprised me when I got here that there were no signs for president.”

Aside from committed Democrats like Kim Robbins, who works in medical billing, it was hard to find any voters thrilled with their choices. In fact, the first voter whom I encountered as I walked from the school parking lot was a middle-aged Republican with a patrician bearing who announced, “I just did a write-in because I don’t believe in Donald Trump.”

In a sense, her vote was canceled out by Ray Plante, a general contractor wearing a cap with the logo of the University of New Hampshire hockey team. Plante, a conservative who remains a registered Democrat, had shown up determined to skip the presidential line entirely.

But at the last minute — in an impulsive move similar to the choice by the would-be Jill Stein voter — Plante opted for Donald Trump. As he explained, “I decided that I didn’t want to vote for Hillary more than I didn’t want to vote for Trump.”

Shortly before noon, a delegation of about 20 students from the nearby All-Aboard pre-school were escorted on their first trip of their lifetime to the polls. Maybe in 20 or 30 years, these four-year-olds will remember their first election. Hopefully, the dismal quality of the choice for president that many voters face today will have, by then, been lost in the mists of time.

Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is a veteran of Politics Daily, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and the Washington Post. His book on his con-man great-uncle was just published: “Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Fuhrer.” Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.