On Wednesday, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson said that writing in Ron Paul for president in November would be “effectively meaningless.” Johnson is the Libertarian Party presidential candidate, so for many, to hear him speak of “meaningless” votes is sort of like the pot calling the kettle black. Considering that according to a recent CNN/ORC poll only 3% of likely voters would vote for Johnson, he really doesn’t have a chance of winning the election.
But that doesn’t mean voting for him or any other doomed third party candidate is a waste. In Johnson’s defense, writing in Ron Paul probably does make your vote less worthwhile than voting for an actual third party in the election
For a vote to be meaningless depends on the meaning you intend your vote to have. Voting for a third party is a chance to show the two main parties that there are issues you care about so much (be it a truly free market, a maximum wage, etc.) that the fact that they are not covering them means you are willing to vote for another party that does address them. As far as the Republican establishment sees it, a vote for the Libertarian Party is a vote they lost. The same goes for the Democrats and the Green Party.
The role of the third party is to highlight an idea that you feel that the two main parties are not covering. In today’s politics, where every vote counts, 3% of likely voters is a lot of people. It would be wise for a party to make an attempt to hear (or even pander to) those people's grievances so as to get them under your tent.
Johnson comes from this camp, which sees the meaning of voting for a third party as related to the ideals you are trying to support through it; ideals that you are trying to get included in the “big tent” parties. This is where his comment as to “Ron Paul” being an “essentially meaningless” vote comes from.
Johnson sees himself as a libertarian and he also sees Paul as a libertarian. For him, they both stand for the same ideals. Except this time around, Ron Paul isn’t even standing. He has stepped aside to let a new vanguard of libertarians have their turn.
It must be frustrating for Johnson to hear that people plan on writing in Ron Paul when his own name is right there on the ballot, standing for what he sees as the same ideals. For Johnson, the party is stronger when it sticks together. It probably frustrates him to know that a lot of people care and vote for the cult figure of Ron Paul at the sacrifice of the Libertarian Party writ large.
So yes, it is possible to vote third party in this election cycle. and it is meaningful, but writing in Ron Paul’s name makes your vote meaningless. Third parties are an important testing ground for new ideas for America. Johnson perhaps just sees people writing in Ron Paul as divorcing the ideas from the person and caring about the latter a bit too much. The point of parties and candidates, be they third parties or main ones, are the ideals they strive for. For Johnson, writing in Ron Paul means sacrificing these ideals.