Updated: Jun 20, 2021
Election years like this one make me want to pull a Kimmy Schmitt move, jump up and down, close my eyes, and chant, “I’m not really here! I’m not really here!” If this is sort of escapism is not your emotion of choice then you might be one of the population who has been wracked with fear (I can’t live with what would happen if _______ won the election), enmity (He/She is a monster and anyone who would vote for them is crazy), or vindication (We must do everything we can to stop _______ ). If you have been cruising through the news or online this year, then you have seen these various reactions popping up in colorful array.
Election years are tough and this one might just be the toughest of all.
In a season so riddled with confusion, fear, helplessness, and anxiety, it is common for many of us to retreat from the whole process. This year, I have been in more conversations than ever that are framed in the age-old question: “To vote, or not to vote.”
I want to share a few thoughts with you to consider on this particular topic. I will not tell you who to vote for or insert my own opinion about any candidate or party. These thoughts are my attempt to persuade anyone (particularly Christians) who is on the fence about voting, that they should indeed vote; conscientiously and anyway.
Vote Your Conscious
I love my friends. Times like this election season remind me why I choose to be surrounded by this particular group of people. Their opinions and politics could not be more different from each other, but there is one central variable that makes us all friends: a patient application of conviction. I cannot begrudge anyone their choice when it is apparent that they have wrestled long with the best course of action. This process takes time and it is at best, uncomfortable and at worst, downright emotional. My heart is softened when I see my friends and colleagues bend their time to scrutinize their motives, research candidates, examine their own prejudices, and listen to diverse possibilities. After this kind of process, when they land (and wherever they land), I cannot help at least respecting how they arrived where they arrived. Why respect a decision I think is wrong just because that person is voting their conscious? Because our current situation makes it all to easy for us to vote without ever using our minds or hearts. For example, here are a few bad motivations to use in order to pick a candidate or position:
- You don’t like your person, but you can’t STAND the other person
- You are a member of a political party and you vote that column no matter who is in it, without any examination
- Singular self-protection of your assets and comfort
Those who have taken the time to leave these easy roads aside for the harder road of soul-searching and introspection are my heroes. If more of us voted our conscious, I believe that we would be able to access an inner peace. This peace is the kind of peace that comes when we know we have done our due diligence to work with what we were handed to make the best decision we could stomach.
This is particularly hard due to the fact that every vote is a sacrifice. To choose between candidates means having to put our priorities in order. We might have to sacrifice a lesser issue to support one that we feel is more important. No one candidate or party represents everyone’s conscious and priorities 100% so each and every one of us will have to choose a combination that will champion some ideas while sacrificing others. This should not be taken lightly and we must remember that we are empowered to gather information and make decisions based on our will, our ethics, our communities, and our conscious.
The right to vote extends far beyond the ballot box. It is more than just a half hour one day every four years. The freedom we exercise with our vote is not the freedom of mobility to travel to a polling station on a particular day. The freedom to wrestle with our politics, our selfishness, our anger, and our desire to see things change is to flex a democratic muscle that few people have the privilege to access. If we fail to utilize this process then we diminish the very vote we cast.
"You want me to vote my conscious? Well guess what!? My conscious says that every stinking person on the ballot is not worth my vote or my time. So how about them apples!”
I feel you.
This is certainly not the first election where many of us have felt this way, but it is one of the most profound. We exercise our due diligence and come back to the surface only to find that we cannot, in good conscious, vote for any candidate. This lack of option however, does not necessitate a lack of choice. They can put the worst options on the ballot but they cannot stop you from claiming what is your right as a citizen. So why should we vote anyway? Here are a few things to consider.
To-day, alike are great and small, The nameless and the known; My palace is the people’s hall, The ballot-box, my throne! –John Greenleaf Whittier, American poet (1807–92)
There is more on the ballot
Have you looked at a sample ballot lately? There is a lot on it. In my district, we voted for senators, representatives, the Sheriff, the District Attorney, school board and a handful of amendments that would affect education, taxes, and the courts. You may not have a favorite for President, but there are many issues much closer to home that are well worth your time. We often complain about how Washington never seems to get anything done and it seems truer than ever. Whoever wins the presidential election this year will then have to begin the long tedious process of trying to accomplish anything. Depending on partisan politics, there is any number of possibilities for a president to not get the legacy they so desperately wanted when they entered office.
Now, I’m not saying that the president does not effect major change. It is a pretty important office (to understate it). My point is that, on a local level, the politics move quicker. Decisions are made about roads and schools and taxes that affect your life on a more personal and immediate level. I want to know where my DA stands on domestic violence. I want to know the educational track record of my school board members. I may do a write-in on races where I cannot choose a candidate in good conscious but on the local level, not only does my vote count more but it will shape my community.
There is more than just a vote
In a previous blog I wrote called “The Hidden Cost of Voting,” I expound on the massive absence of young people from the polls. The older generations tend to show up in droves and ages 18-30 are nowhere to be found. I work at a college and I hear young adults complain about how politicians do not champion the issues that are important to them. Here’s a free tip: they never will if you don’t vote.
Demographic information is gathered from polling stations all over America and these stats fuel the political machine. Consultants and experts advise candidates and politicians on how to campaign and what to care about based on these stats. Your vote is private and they may not be able to see how you voted, but that fact that you voted still matters tremendously. If a large portion of voters did a write-in or third party candidate vote this election and if the stats reflect a larger showing of young voters, then this would signal to your state politicians and representatives that their people do not support these candidates and we want new options. It would signal that their constituents want them to push against the tide. There are experts whose whole careers are dedicated to reading this data and counseling politicians.
So what does not showing up to vote do? Nothing. It says nothing to your politicians except that your issues are not worth caring about because you won’t vote anyway. Abstaining means you lose your seat at the political table. You lose your political voice. See my other blog with more thoughts on how this works.
Someone Fought, Someone Died
As a female, I have a hard time justifying any reason to forgo my right to vote. This
dissonance comes from an education on women’s suffrage in America and just how long it took to pass the 19th Amendment. Women fought hard for the right to vote. The proposition went before the U.S. Congress for forty-one years before it passed. The stories of women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are compelling and convicting. So many women and men put their years, careers, reputations, and blood into seeing that women got the right to vote. It hasn’t even been 100 years since women were allowed to vote in this country.
For me, this is an important reason for me to exercise my right to vote. Even if the candidates are terrible. Even if I’m discouraged. Even if I am just sick and tired of politics. There is a long history of injustice that was fought hard against. The injustice was corrected and now it is my privilege. Something echoes in history that compels me to take up the mantle and continue in gratitude for the democratic qualities that so many fought to protect.
And the thing is, no matter who you are, you can look back into the story of this nation and there is some movement, some cause, some group of patriots who fought hard to get the right to vote. This is not just a victory among minorities. The right for representation and a democratic voice hails all the way back to the European ancestors who fought the Revolutionary War. We all have a blood deposit in this privilege. We should not be so light to take it for granted or disregard it.
The freeman, casting with unpurchased hand The vote that shakes the turrets of the land. –Oliver Wendell Holmes, American poet (1809–94)
"Wait, are there people who don’t vote on principle?"
Yes. In fact, there is a large movement of Christian Anarchists and those from the Anabaptist traditions who respectfully abstain from voting for spiritual and philosophical reasons. While I disagree with their ideology, they raise certain points that are worth considering as we talk about the merits of voting.
One of the positions from Christian Anarchists is that there is no political or social structure that will ever truly represent the principles of the kingdom of God. Christendom can never establish the society that the gospel demands and no political party can ever produce the kind of balance of justice, mercy, and shalom that flows through the transformative presence and power of Jesus Christ. By voting, many abstainers would say, we are deforming our hope by placing it on earthly masters who cannot bring about a godly society.
By voting for a candidate or party, we misplace our trust and hope in something that can never be. It is idolatry and an environment that produces fear and anxiety. We fear that the “other” candidate will impose their non-Christian ethics on our society and so we place our trust in “our” candidate who can never actually do the opposite to the fulfillment of the kingdom. This group of abstainers makes a critical point that politics can never be where all our Christian hope should lie because no politician can bring the kingdom of God on earth. We cannot place ultimate expectations of reconciliation and justice on our politicians when we know that this is only something God can accomplish through his Spirit and His Church.
They offer a wise warning that we should heed even as we vote: no candidate or party or system will save us. In fact, they will not even come close to being agents of God’s kingdom.
“Wait a minute. So why vote? Did you just undo your own argument?”
I offer that there is much merit in voting despite the fact that we cannot place our ultimate hope for the future on who is elected. This leads me to my final point:
Don’t Just Vote
Our friends in the Anabaptist traditions who abstain from voting make the suggestion that Christians should be aiming to change the world and engage the prayer “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,”[i] by being the people of God all year long. If we are truly concerned about this world, we should not just be concerned in an election year. If political policies that affect our money, our communities, our jobs, our safety, and our neighbors are important to us, then what are we doing about it on a regular basis? Sadly, Christian conservatives seem to get very pro-life only when it comes to politics. If you don’t vote for a pro-life candidate, then you are a murderer. But if these unborn lives matter so much to you, what are you doing the rest of the year? Do you give up your free time to counsel and help single mothers? Are you committing to aid financially with access to health care for women in poverty who have nowhere else to go? Are you working to fight against the systemic injustices that are tangled up in why someone seeks out an abortion?
Now, before you get mad at me for harping on conservatives, let me just say that Christian liberals have the same problem. So you care about the poor, eh? Shall we compare your annual spending on concert tickets and entertainment versus your charitable giving? You care about immigrants and refugees? Have you spent any time with these groups lately?
I take off my hat to those of with whom no hypocrisy reigns in this matter. There are Christians whose political and social issues are matched in their daily choices and not just within politics. But for the rest of us (and notice that I said “us,”) we tend to make these the hills we will die on to defend a candidate but will spend almost no time or capital on throughout the year.
We cannot just vote. If we really care about justice, fairness, accountability, harmony, and the flourishing of our communities then there is so much more we should be doing besides bumper stickers and trite, inflammatory statements on social media. Our commitment to the gospel cannot just pop up once every four years. Our Christian Anarchist friends reveal to us our faulty logic and false religion as voting citizens. And while I agree with them on these points, I believe that we can be both conscientious citizens throughout the year AND conscientious voters.
If we are truly committed to being ministers of reconciliation[ii] and those who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly[iii], then we cannot ignore the political arena altogether. It is immensely important to remember that these flawed politicians will never be able to carry our hope or restore our lives, but in the meantime, we have an obligation to care about policy and policy makers. I still want to pressure my DA to get serious about the problem of domestic violence. I want my local sheriff to be committed to the end of police corruption and racial violence.
At the end of the day though, if my leaders are corrupt; if they enforce corrupt policies; if they try to take my freedoms and silence my convictions, I can be at peace knowing that my hope is in Christ, the God who is Love[iv], and that He has equip me to fight for the marginalized and voiceless, seek the good of my neighbor, and love my enemy. And if the worst should come, we continue to press on with the same mission because it is not my government that makes me truly free.
So go out there and vote! Research, pray, and vote your conscience. Be grateful for the opportunities afforded you to be active in many spheres of public life. There are those all over the world that wish they had that chance. But don’t stop with the ballot box. Be people ignited with joy, truth, and hope. Bring light into darkness and don’t just wait for your politicians to do it. And “above all put on love which binds all [of these virtues] together in perfect unity."[v]
For additional information on abstaining from voting in the Anabaptist and Christian Anarchist positions, check out these interviews: http://www.shaneblackshear.com/nekeishaalaynaalexis/
To view a sample ballot – Google “sample ballot” and Google will use a tool to locate your ballot for your polling district.
To find candidate websites and political history - Ballotpedia
[i] Matthew 6:10
[ii] 2 Corinthians 5:18
[iii] Micah 6:8
[iv] 1 John 4:8
[v] Col 3:14