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Don't like candidate A or B? Vote for option C

It doesn’t have to be a choice between an evil queen and a bombastic clown, two toxic, fatally flawed candidates.

About two-thirds of prospective voters consider both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton dishonest and untrustworthy. That’s millions of Americans who hold both candidates in high disregard, but appear ready to just hold their noses and vote for one of them, unwittingly helping to preserve the status quo.

That’s insanity.

The idea that a third party candidate can’t win will then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But there is another option in this presidential race. Support, and then vote for, a candidate from another party, such as Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Your vote won’t be wasted and America will be the better for it.

As Eugene V. Debs, five-time presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America, observed, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.”

The potential receptivity of Oregonians to a third party is reflected in the fact that about a third of Oregon’s three million registered voters don’t belong to the Democratic or Republican Party.

Some of that is surely a clear decision by voters refusing to align themselves with one of the major parties. Some may be tied to Oregon’s new policy of automatically registering voters when they visit a Department of Motor Vehicles. Under that process, voters are automatically registered as “unaffiliated” and later given the option of picking a party choice, but most do nothing.

Nationally, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center recently reported that the share of independents in the public, which long ago surpassed the percentages of either Democrats or Republicans, continues to increase. In a 2016 report, based on 2014 data, 39 percent identify as independents, 32 percent as Democrats and 23 percent as Republicans. This is the highest percentage of independents in more than 75 years of public opinion polling, according to Pew.

In a 2014 Gallup poll, 58 percent of U.S. adults also favored having a third party because the Republican and Democratic parties “do such a poor job” representing the American people. Only 35 percent said the two existing major parties do an adequate job of this.

Your willingness to express support for a third party candidate will have one immediate impact. In 2000, the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private company, approved rules stipulating that, besides being on enough state ballots to win an Electoral College majority, debate participants must clear 15% in pre-debate opinion polls.

At a minimum, if you express your support for another party’s candidate, that person will have a better chance of joining the presidential debates, making Americans more aware of his or her positions and enhancing the possibility that he or she will emerge as a serious contender.

Don’t cop out by endorsing write-ins instead. If you agree that voting is about expressing a political preference, write-ins only signal a defection from the two-party system, not support for another person and agenda. Voting for a third party conveys endorsement of a recognizable set of principles, a public platform.

Even if your third-party candidate doesn’t win, your vote will have an impact. Willie Sutton reputedly replied to a reporter’s inquiry as to why he robbed banks by saying “because that’s where the money is.” Politicians follow a similar principle. They go where the votes are. If voters reject the history, values and solutions of Clinton and Trump, other politicians will become more open to alternatives.

Americans will not be throwing away or wasting their votes by casting them for people and policies they support, rather than for the lesser of two evils.

As John Quincy Adams said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

The only wasted vote is one that’s not cast at all.

Bill MacKenzie is a former communications manager for a major high tech company in Oregon, business and politics reporter and committee staff at the U.S. House of Representatives. He blogs on public policy issues at thinkingoregon.org.