My wife and I go out to vote together. We don't always vote alike—I'm sure our votes have effectively canceled each other out on occasion—but on the way over to our polling place, we discuss the people we are (and are definitely not) voting for. Sometimes, one of us sways the other to change his or her vote. More often, our choices remain the same, but we have a worthwhile conversation that helps us to better understand the ups and downs of these candidates as well as each other's thought processes. Not everyone can have a civil discussion of the subject, but my wife and I give enough consideration to the candidates we support to explain where we're coming from before any fur starts flying. We already understand each other's personal viewpoints on "the issues"; choosing a candidate is mostly a matter of weighing the personal and professional choices and identities of the individuals on the ballot and deciding which person would best represent us.
Why doesn't my individual vote matter? Because too much of the country assumes there are only two choices, and certain states act like there's only one. If I'm not siding with the obvious winner or tipping the balance to the left or right when it's too close to call, I'm throwing away my vote. But I throw away the democratic process in favor of an endless tug-of-war when I let the rest of the country essentially flip a coin to decide who my leaders will be. How much do I really care about myself or this country if I don't cast my lot with whomever truly represents my best interests? How much do the nation's problems really matter to me if I've got a half-dozen people on the ballot who have solutions, and I only consider listening to one or two of them? Forget about the piddly little drop in the bucket that is my single vote; my integrity, patriotism, and freethinking individualism are at stake here!
I take responsibility for my votes. I sit down to research all the candidates before an election. All the candidates—Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Independent; even the ones with ridiculous names like the Go To Bed Or Else Your Mother Will Run For President To Make It Against The Law To Stay Up Late party. It doesn't matter if I think I won't like what a candidate has to say. Political affiliation is only a label, and you can't trust a label to tell you what an individual is like.
The trouble is, some candidates don't make it easy for people who care about more than their party affiliation to find out anything about them. If I miss all your pep rallies and debates and newspaper coverage, where can I turn for information about you? The Internet. If you are truly serious about getting elected, the least you can do is get your tech-savvy nephew to spend five minutes throwing together a free website for your campaign. Facebook or Twitter? Even better. Project Vote Smart? Fab. I cannot tell you how many candidates I've given up on because I couldn't find anything about them, from every party, for President all the way down to Board of Education.
At the time I'm writing this, doing a search for my name on Google yields this website as the first result, my Twitter account right after that, a YouTube tribute video one of my fans made for me, the wrong Nathaniel Hoover's Facebook page, my article contribution page for GameCola, my LinkedIn profile, some other dude's LinkedIn profile, Exfanding Your Horizons, and a news article about my demise in Jacksonville, FL last year. All of this is on the first page of search results, and that's without throwing on any additional terms to narrow down which Nathaniel Hoover we're talking about.
Meanwhile, I'm trolling the archives of a local newspaper for even a passing mention of this person who's on the ballot. If you don't recognize the value of a basic Internet presence, then it makes me wonder how in-touch with our tech-driven society you really are. If you see the value but can't be bothered to establish a basic Internet presence, then I wonder how much you really care about getting elected. If you see the value but don't know how to establish a basic Internet presence, then I wonder how suitable you are to lead if you give up on anything you can't do by yourself. I'm not even asking for a whiz-bang multimedia extravaganza; a 1997 GeoCities page with your picture and a list of three things you care about would be fine!
In the end, I vote for the person I feel is best qualified for the job, regardless of whom the media and my own political party are putting in the spotlight. If that's a waste of a vote, then it's a waste of a vote. But I'd rather waste my vote trying to do right by myself and my country than sit at home and wait for an election that's worth voting in.