We’re coming up on a season that I often dread. No, it isn’t Autumn. It isn’t Winter. It’s election time. You know, the season of negative ads at every turn, debates that leave us with as little insight into the candidates as we had before the exchanges and the pressure of knowing that the decisions we make may literally affect history. So here we are, coming up to elections for offices across the country and I find myself asking some nagging questions: What is a reasonable course of action when we deem none of the candidates on the current ballot worthy of our vote? Do we stay away from the polls? Do we vote for the “lesser of two evils”? Do we vote for third party or independent candidates who have little chance of winning? Do we write in the name of a person not even on the ballot?
I’ve always considered voting to be not only a right but a responsibility. When people complain, whether about individual politicians or entire party platforms, my first question is always whether or not they voted in the last election. Basically, I view voting as the basis upon which our rights to protest rest.
Staying away from the polls is not a personal option for me for this reason although the notion of not participating in a system that seems, at times, to be ineffective and unworkable is appealing. While some consider not voting to be an act of revolution, it strikes me as an act of simply giving away our power.
Voting for “the lesser of two evils” is an option that many people reject. Some refuse to make any choice at all when all candidates are deemed unacceptable. What qualifies a candidate as acceptable? Is it their agreement with our personal agendas without exception? If that is the case, I doubt many of us would ever be able to vote for anyone on the ballot. Does the perfect candidate exist? I think not. Someone who upholds my environmental values may not have the same views on gun control. Someone who shares my goals for tax reform may not feel the same way about immigration. Perhaps it makes sense to identify the candidate who represents our views on one or two issues that most concern us and give them our support, hoping that what we find reasonable in their character will allow them to be further swayed on other issues in the future. I’m not aware of any group, be it political, family, friendship circle or activist coalition where members hold 100% of the same views and priorities.
When we are fortunate enough to have the possibility of a third party or independent candidate upset the status quo, our options can seem even more complicated. We often hear that third party or independent candidates might swing the election in favor of our least liked option. We hear voters who are loyal to the two party system tell us that a vote for a third party or independent person is a wasted vote at best and a dangerous vote at worst as it might result in the election of the greater of two evils. This situation has had my attention for quite some time now. After a lot of consideration, I’ve come to rue my decision to play it safe in a past election when I truly believed in an alternative candidate but bought the argument that voting for him would simply weaken/bolster the chance of the most desirable/least objectionable candidate from winning. I now wish I had voted differently. Voting for either of the two major party platforms, even when they do not meet our values and expectations, helps to perpetuate the status quo and thus give away our power as surely as if we hadn’t voted at all. It allows our decisions to be ruled by fear rather than hope.
Writing in the name of a person who is not even running for office is a way to make a statement but not one that is bound to be noticed by anyone other than the individual voter. My write-in vote for Jane Doe does little else than allow me to say that I did in fact vote, therefore keeping alive my right to rail against the election outcome to my heart’s content when it’s all over.
So, here we are with choices to make. This year’s state election still find me undecided. As for the national elections coming up in 2016… I am so grateful that I have a bit of time to decide the best course of deciding my vote. I find myself hoping that a particular independent candidate will be part of the equation and that I’ll have the courage of my convictions when the time comes.