Much like telling people I’m a Screen Arts and Cultures major with a minor in Chinese, saying I’m voting independent is initially met with a blank stare. Then, the person usually says something along the lines of “Oh, that’s interesting. But … what good will it do?”

Admittedly, that’s a difficult question to answer — though it shouldn’t be. You would think in a democratic country you wouldn’t need to apologize because you vote for someone other than the two most prominent candidates, just as you wouldn’t have to justify pursuing a degree in a field that actually interests you, whether it guarantees work or not. But a simple “Because I want to” isn’t always a satisfying response. People expect substantial reasons.

More than that, this is a particularly frustrating time not to adhere to the two-party equation. Whether the Democrats or Republicans win in November, a defining moment in history will be made, and students are already gearing for the occasion. I, meanwhile, have hung up my gloves, retreated into a corner and taken on the role of a complacent observer. Like any independent voter today, I’ve fully accepted the fact that my candidate has no chance.

So what’s the point?

Well, before I get into that, let me clarify.

This coming election, I’m voting for Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate. When I told my dad this, he sounded confused and vaguely disgusted, as if I had told him I was becoming a vegetarian. My friends responded similarly.

It’s not hard to understand why they reacted like this. Most of my friends didn’t even know who Bob Barr is. A couple of them didn’t know what a Libertarian is.

My dad, meanwhile, lives in Maryland, where most primaries are closed, meaning you can’t vote in them if you’re a registered independent. That’s a wonderful way to strengthen the two-party system, as well as emphasize the supposed meaninglessness of being an independent voter. When I told him my decision, he probably envisioned me throwing my ballot into a fiery furnace.

That said, it doesn’t matter what they think. That probably sounds like an incredibly indignant statement, but the idea of voting based on your beliefs — as opposed to voting to please those around you — has apparently been lost in our image-conscious culture, when wearing Barack Obama or “Vote or Die” T-shirts is more a fashion statement than a political one.

Simply put, I’m voting Libertarian because I’m voting for a movement I believe in. That’s all the justification I need. Meanwhile, there are people out there voting for Obama simply because he sounds good speaking from podiums, or for John McCain because he was once a prisoner of war. There are questionable voters everywhere, and most of them aren’t independents.

The main reason for both the independent candidates’ lack of recognition and the sheer stupidity on the part of certain voters is the news media — specifically, TV news. There is literally no coverage of the Libertarian Party — or any other independent party, for that matter — on the important news stations. Why, then, would anybody care about it?

Cable news stations like MSNBC and CNN narrow down the election to the point where the average viewer would assume there are only two parties. And, on top of that, the Republican and Democratic candidates are presented in such a way that they’re little more than symbols. Yet, these superficial presentations are just what influence people to go to the polls.

So what can we do? Simple: Read. Educate ourselves. Gather as much information as we can and form our own opinions, as opposed to simply nodding blindly in accordance with what Keith Olberman or Chris Matthews say. There are more options out there than Obama and a “hockey mom” from Alaska. Think outside the box — or more to the point, look away from it.

It can be hard going against the grain. I don’t like having to constantly justify my reason for voting independent, but then again, maybe it’s good that I have to. At the very least, I can pride myself on the fact that my opinion isn’t shaped by what television, or anyone else, tells me my opinion should be. I’m voting for myself, and, ultimately, that’s all that matters.

Brandon Conradis can be reached at brconrad@umich.edu.

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