MTCIA’s Single-Issue Voter Campaign

As our members know, we’ve been talking about a single-issue voter campaign since August and have surveyed members as to whether or not they think they will be single issue voters in the next campaign. We’ve initiated steps to educate people on what single-issue voting means, created materials, and took them with us to the Drug Policy Alliance conference in Los Angeles.

We’re encouraged to see support for such a campaign in Montana. Because we see advocates picking up the idea,  running with it, and making it their own, we wanted to make sure that those concerned with cannabis-related issues have an understanding of what it means to be a single-issue voter.

We’ve learned over and over that compassion, the truth, and what is right isn’t serving as a compass for Montana elected officials.

So, we need new officials.

Below is an educational piece on single-issue voting and its power.  Come to local MTCIA meetings and get our awesome single-issue voter sticker or t-shirt.

Single-Issue Voting

The purpose of the single-issue voter will not always be to elect a particular candidate. The purpose is to demonstrate the power of a voting block. There may not be a candidate in a given race that deserves the cannabis vote. Yet, even in such a race, there is the opportunity to demonstrate that the cannabis vote can drive the outcome of an election. 

The goal of the single-issue voter is to demonstrate the voting block’s power so that politicians learn that their objective of winning cannot be achieved without recognizing the voting block’s interests.

Of course, citizens who care about ending the social and economic problems caused by marijuana prohibition also care about other issues that impact their lives, communities, and the larger society. Why, if two candidates are both weak on the cannabis issue, should a citizen then not vote for the candidate who is aligned with that citizen’s other concerns?

It is a reasonable approach to take and many may feel it’s the only responsible choice. One’s vote is one’s own business.

For many, however, there is value in taking a stand to get one targeted objective accomplished through the power of the ballot box. A problem with single issue voting is that many voters become captive to the litmus test they set for a candidate – that the candidate must be pro-choice/anti-abortion, for example, or pro-labor/anti-union. The voter’s passion then becomes a prison as the constant battle over the never-resolved issue actually serves the two-party political system by creating a reliable base of voters for each party who have staked a claim on one side of the issue or the other.  A definitive victory on such issues, for either side, means the end of a reliable, captive voting block for a political party. 

This is why single-issue voters are despised by the political system when they are not under the control of one party or the other, which is the situation with marijuana.

But a single issue voting campaign, well-executed, needn’t become a life long litmus test vote. The point is to change the system in the fewest number of election cycles possible into a system that supports your interests.

So how might a single-issue cannabis vote campaign demonstrate electoral power?                                                                               

In Montana, a legislative House race may be won by as few as 32 votes, or 12, or even 2. So imagine a district with an anticipated close race. If in that district say 20 single-issue cannabis voters decided they would only support good candidates for the issue and neither of the candidates on the ticket are willing to express support for reasonable cannabis policies. This group of single-issue voters could then choose a write-in candidate, perhaps from among themselves. That candidate is not going to win, but it will allow the number of single-issue voters to be counted. If that legislative race is then won (and lost) by 18 votes, for example, and the write-in candidate got 20, it demonstrates a district in which the cannabis vote could tip the outcome of an election.

Of course, the candidates will also make calculations as to whether or not they might have lost votes had they taken a reasonable stand on cannabis policy.

Either way, the cannabis vote can no longer be ignored and both the winner and the loser and the candidates up the road will calculate their position on cannabis into their odds of winning in that district. Because single-issue voters only represent a portion of voters who are good on the cannabis issue, low numbers for write-in candidates is not an indication of a low amount of support in a given district. In fact, is evidence that citizens good on the cannabis issue are regular people who care about their communities in a myriad of ways, and that in addition to those voters, there are supporters willing to take hard stands to create change.

In states such as Montana, the impact of an organized cannabis vote can have far reaching impacts. By any list, Montana is one of the battleground states for control of the U.S. Senate in 2012. In  2005, Jon Tester gained a seat in the Senate for the Democrats by beating out incumbent Republican Conrad Burns by a narrow 3562 votes. In 2012, Senator Tester is being challenged by Republican Representative Denny Rehberg.  National resources will be targeted to the Tester-Rehberg race because when it comes to investing in buying the Senate, fewer people to reach makes Montana a comparably cheap date.

But the 2012 election includes new variable that wasn’t present when Tester and Burns faced off in 2006: The Cannabis Vote.

Last winter, the 2011 legislature passed a bill that dismantled access to medical marijuana in Montana. This past summer, 35,839 signatures  were collected in a petition drive which places the law passed by the legislature onto the 2012 ballot to be voted on by the citizens. That’s almost 36,000 registered voters who were unwililing to let the legislature undo medical marijuana access in Montana.

Compare that near 36,000 votes to the 3,562 Tester beat Burns with in ‘06.

How many of those 35,000+ voters are willing to vote in the 2012 election as single-issue voters, willing to vote only for candidates good on the cannabis issue? What if for single-issue cannabis voters no good candidate resulted in a withheld vote?

What it could mean is that the cannabis vote in Montana may have the ability to determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate in 2012.

And what about President Obama? What if the national cannabis vote sat out the presidential election or threw their support to Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, or a write-in candidate?

A pro-cannabis Democratic voter may feel it is not worth it to lose the presidency to a Republican over cannabis policy and would perhaps draw the line at that vote. For many others, however, in these times, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in the direction the country is going (perhaps the speed in which it goes, but not the direction) regardless of who’s president. For such people, using their vote strategically rather than throwing it away on a disappointing outcome either way feels the more empowered choice. 

It’s also true that one might vote single-issue in their state races, but not national races, or the other way around.

But the objective of single-issue voters is not to support the lesser of two evils, something the political system counts on. The reason why single-issue voters don’t do this is because the objective is not this or that candidate, or this or that political party. It’s about building a foundation and a road to a fundamental change in policy. The cannabis constituency has demonstrated that it is willing to “fight for rights.” But is this a voting block willing to take itself seriously and utilize power?

“Fighting for rights” never gets a constituency power. Using power is what demonstrates that a constituency already has it.


 contact: Kate Cholewa, Policy & Communications, 406.459.4092,


 See also The Montana Cannabis Vote 2012

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