"[T]here are, at bottom, basically two ways to order social affairs, Coercively, through the mechanisms of the state -- what we can call political society. And voluntarily, through the private interaction of individuals and associations -- what we can call civil society. ... In a civil society, you make the decision. In a political society, someone else does. ... Civil society is based on reason, eloquence, and persuasion, which is to say voluntarism. Political society, on the other hand, is based on force." ~ Ed Crane
The Purpose of Voting
It is strange how libertarians, anarchist and statist alike, consider voting an important part of political life, and a way to change the world for the better. As has been covered by a multitude of great libertarian thinkers elsewhere, voting has immense moral implications. But since so many libertarians stand in line to cast their votes, one has to conclude these moral or philosophical implications are outweighed by the practical effect of casting votes. So let's look into the effect of voting from a libertarian perspective.
Common to libertarians, no matter if they are anarchist or believe the existence of a monopolistic, coercive power is the only way of guaranteeing non-coercion, is their pure skepticism towards the state and everything it does and stands for. Since the state and government is pure force and an organization of offensive rather than defensive use of violence and coercion, as well as fraud, it needs to be minimized or abolished. State powers are never desirable and should always be limited unless completely wiped out.
With this in mind, let us go through what a libertarian could possibly hope would be the effect of his or her vote. Since voting is an action to cause a result rather than a reaction to something, one cannot but conclude the purpose of voting is to change something for the better. Casting the vote in order to maintain status quo is nothing but counterproductive, since we do not want anything to do with the welfare-warfare state of today. The very essence of being libertarian is striving for radical change ' to constantly try to reduce state powers, or abolish the state completely, for the benefit of voluntary agreements in the marketplace.
Thus, there can only be two purposes of casting the vote and making such a statement on which politician should gain power over life and liberty. Either it is supposedly an action of (1) abolishing the state, or an effective way of (2) limiting, meaning reducing its powers. Let us investigate which of these desired results of voting, if any, really are reachable through the action of voting. Also, we should not forget to discuss the (3) cost of voting from a libertarian perspective, since the cost cannot outweigh the chance of reaching the desired result.
(1) Abolishing the state
In Europe , this is hardly an option, since the society and the minds of the European peoples are thoroughly socialized through centuries of oppression. I am not aware of any serious party or politician striving for the complete abolishment of the state. The same is true with Asia , South America , Oceania and Africa , where there are no serious alternatives to state-cherishing power-parties. The only established party with an abolishment agenda standing a chance that I am aware of is the Libertarian Party (www.lp.org) in the United States , even though they are continuously moving in the direction of giving up this idea.
So if you are not an American citizen, there are no alternatives if you wish to abolish the state. If you do live in the United States, you should be aware of the fact that there is only a very small fraction of a chance (close to zero) the Libertarian Party will ever gain power, and it is even less likely it will effectively abolish the state.
Even though there are a few libertarian parties available in a number of countries throughout the world, they usually stand less of a chance to gain than the Libertarian Party. It simply is not possible there will be a libertarian president in any country, unless you create your own country some day (But in this case, what would be the purpose of having a president?).
The only conclusion one can come to is that it is pretty impossible to abolish the state through voting. So if you wish to abolish the state, do not cast your vote. The only purpose of voting can thus be to temporarily reduce the powers of the state and government.
(2) Reducing state powers
In comparison with the number of parties with an abolishment of the state in their program, there are a lot of parties striving for reducing the state's powers in one or more areas. The problem here is that most democratic political systems in many ways resemble the American two-party system.
Two-party systems such as the United States or the United Kingdom generally provide conservative and labor parties for which to cast the votes. Usually, the libertarian agenda is somewhat covered by these parties, but the liberties come together with increased state powers in other areas. The conservative parties usually combine the libertarian-inspired free-market liberties with state restrictions on civil liberties, while the labor-oriented parties to some extent value civil liberties while striving for restricting everything having to do with money.
In countries where there are more than two parties competing for power, there is a greater spread of ideas available, but the same general 'divide' is usually present. When voting, you will need to choose between economic freedom combined with state restrictions on how you can live your life, and a restricted market with a few political freedoms or civil liberties. (There are of course also parties promising increased state coercion in both areas.)
A libertarian party might be good an alternative here, but since they generally do not stand a chance in the struggle for gaining power over the state, it is not a productive alternative while voting. So if you are attempting to reduce state powers through voting, you will need to choose which kind of liberties you value most, and accept increased state powers for the other.
I am aware of many libertarians in the United States voting for the Republican Party, just as British libertarians tend to vote for conservative Tories and Swedish libertarians for the conservative-liberal Moderaterna. Such action is probably the result of very simple math, where these people hope to stop the fast increase in state powers by voting for the 'better' (read: less bad) player. While this may have a marginal effect on the outcome, these libertarians have still actively showed their support for a policy including the war in Iraq , the Patriot Act, etc.
Trying to reduce the powers of the state by voting is a tricky business, and generally results in increased coercion no matter what you choose. The reason for this is there is no real incentive in the coercive structures of the state to reduce the powers ' upon gaining power the only incentive is to increase the powers, and before gaining power, one cannot really do anything about it through party politics.
There are a few individuals playing the game of politics who have a clear mind and enough character to actually work for reducing the powers of the state. But these individuals usually work against the great majority, and have a hard time trying to gain political support for such an agenda. And even if they manage to accomplish political support, they still have to face the enormous and reluctant bureaucracy which is to implement your political program. I should know, I have tried the road of politics ' and failed.
You can of course offer these individuals your support, but generally you will have to support their views in any issues ' even where you do not agree with them. As tough as it can be finding a candidate you can support in most issues, it may still be a better alternative than voting for a party with which you agree to only 40-50%. But as we have been told by perhaps the greatest libertarian philosopher of the 20th century, mixing food with poison still makes the dish poisonous.
(3) The cost of voting
While contemplating the very small chance of actually achieving a libertarian effect in some area, you must also consider the costs of voting. Voting means you actively take action to support a candidate in the game of politics, and thus you will have to accept whatever results of the election. If you willingly take part in the game, you must face the consequences. You have only yourself to blame.
The problem here is that voting also generates costs in other areas. You are automatically registered with the state as a voter (we can also call it 'supporter of the system'). In the United States this is obvious, since you need to register prior to voting. In countries where this is not the case, you will still be registered as one of the many wanting your views to be forced upon the electorate. There are thus many moral implications to voting which simply makes it very costly for libertarians to take part in this.
Voting is to a libertarian nothing less than a minefield, where the number of mines is infinite. Trying to get across such a minefield is nothing but foolish, since the chance of success is almost nonexistent. The voting process is actually nothing but the illusion of letting the people decide their fate. The incentives in the system are only to strive for and increase powers, and force one's will upon others. It is a parasitic and oppressive system which libertarians cannot support without losing all credibility.
Considering the fact that one will have to take part in a system which in essence is what we wish to abolish, there is simply no point in voting. As a matter of fact, the action is thoroughly destructive. There is really nothing to gain engaging in or supporting actors in cut-throat politics; for the libertarian casting his or her vote, the moral loss is extensive and outweighs any temporary gains. And as an extra bonus, any gains are created through the use of an oppressive system.