...my vote would not have counted AT ALL, and American politics consists of mud-slinging between the Republican and Democratic party candidates...so I didn't bother registering this year and so I didn't vote.Gentoo has a really cool system for installing programs called Portage. You can automatically download, configure and install thousands of programs with it. It can automatically select or deselect features across every program on your computer; for example, if your computer doesn't have a DVD drive, you can set a "-dvd" flag so that programs don't include support for DVDs.
There's a problem with Portage, however. You can use it to update the compiler, low-level libraries, even itself; however, how can you initally install these utilities, when you need to have them installed to install them?
This is a common problem in computing; it's referred to as "bootstrapping" (from the phrase "lifting oneself by one's bootstraps"). It comes up throughout computing. Unix usually stores programs in /usr/bin, but some programs are needed to load /usr. Kernels are stored on a filesystem, but you need to have a kernel to access a filesystem. When a computer boots up, a program needs to initialize the hard disks, but programs are normally stored on a hard disk. (Computers are "booted" because there are several of these "bootstrapping" steps involved in starting them.)
In each case, programmers have designed special measures to deal with this. Gentoo comes with a C compiler, libraries, and copy of Portage in a special directory; a special script is used to enable these directories and compile the first copies of the compiler, libraries, and Portage, which are then used to build the rest of the system. Unix has a /bin directory that contains all the software needed before /usr is loaded. Special programs called bootloaders with enough knowledge of filesystems to load the kernel are used. Motherboards have a program burned into memory called the BIOS, which knows how to initialize the hard drives. And so on, and so forth.
Successful third parties have great features in an electoral system like ours--features that will ultimately make them contenders. The problem is getting them popular enough to be taken seriously in the first place. And just like Portage, just like Unix programs, just like loading a kernel, just like starting a hard disk, we're going to need to special-case starting these third parties--vote for them when it's not necessarily in our short-term best interest to do so.
That's why a vote for a third party counts. Every vote for a third party makes it more legitimate, and every shred of legitimacy it gains will win it more votes. And, slowly but surely, it will gain enough legitimacy to make a difference.
I can't blame you for not voting; the situation seems hopeless, after all. But a vote for a third party counts in unexpected ways.