Voting is the life blood of a Democracy. It is both a sacred duty and a great privilege. So, why do so many Americans decide to stay away from the polls? Different people have different responses to the question: “I hate politics and don’t want to be part of that mess.” “The candidates are all the same.” “My party didn’t nominate my candidate, so I am out.” “They are all crooks.” “Neither candidate supports my issue.” “I don’t like the two-party domination, so I will cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate.” “My vote doesn’t matter.”
I’ve heard all of these and many other reasons for why an American citizen chooses to sit out an election, and I acknowledge their right to do so. But, I also believe that the anti-vote attitude is a threat to the democracy that gives them the right to make the choice.
I wasn’t happy with my party’s candidate in 2016 but I voted for her. She was far and away the best choice, and I think she would have made a good president. It never entered my mind to sit out the election, or to vote for a third-party that had no chance to win. Why? Because the consequences of that choice are huge. For instance, in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan Donald Trump had a three-state total of 77,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton. Trump won the electoral votes and the presidency by carrying each of those states by less than one percentage point. Thirty-five percent of registered Democratic voters chose to stay home on election day 2016, costing Clinton an electoral-college defeat.
Consider also the 2000 election between Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore. Bush won Florida by 537 votes, which (with the help of the Supreme Court) gave him the electoral votes he needed to claim the presidency. A five hundred and thirty-seven vote difference in one state elected a president who led us into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If I were one of the 97,488 Florida voters who in 2000 cast a ballot for the Green Party’s Ralph Nader, I would still feel a sense of guilt. I would wonder, “what if I and 537 other Nader supporters had instead voted for Gore?” We probably would not have entered a war against Iraq (which to date has cost $1.2 trillion, with 4,400 US deaths and 32,000 wounded); the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts that primarily benefited the ultra-rich (costing the US treasury $3.5 trillion over a 10-year period) would probably not have been enacted; and, given Gore’s expertise, we certainly would have been on our way to achieving a carbon-free future (which would have cost billions less that the tax cuts and war expenditure).
I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who choose for whatever reason to relinquish their right to vote. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who vote for a third-party candidate who has no chance of winning.
I do, however, question their pragmatic thinking process, and I ask two things of them: First, in this year’s election, please carefully consider the consequences of another four years of the Trump presidency versus four years of Joe Biden. Weigh those consequences in both your mind and your heart. Think about the nation and the world you want to live in and that you hope your children will be born into. Understand the consequences of electing either of the candidates. Then, secondly, go to the polls and vote.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.