The Front Porch Republic election symposium touches on a topic I wrote about last week: our exaggerated view of the importance of elections. The editors write:

We often take voting to be the measure of the citizen. Belonging to and participation in public life are the defining features of citizenship, which makes one wonder why voting has come to occupy the prominent role it does in our imaginaries of citizenship. It is, in many ways, the least consequential thing we do as citizens, particularly since our vote will be inconsequential.

Mark T. Mitchell offers several suggestions to voters in his contribution . His third suggestion is apt to be unpopular:
If you can’t in good conscience vote for either of the two major candidates, don’t. Democracy is about expressing your preference. Too long we’ve consigned ourselves to the false choice of voting for the lesser of two evils. If we are satisfied with that dismal alternative, we’ll likely continue to get nothing better.

Catholic blogger Mark Shea has long made the same point about the problematic aspects of voting for the lesser of two evils (which may be permissible  but is not obligatory).  He writes :
The real action in deciding what happens to the fate of a nation occurs not at the ballot box, but with political involvement (or lack thereof) by the citizenry at much lower grassroots (and non-political) levels of culture and family life. That’s not to say voting is meaningless. Far from it. It is intensely meaningful. But *what* it means is not primarily about how my puny vote will affect the outcome of an election involving millions of other people. It is, rather, how my puny vote will change me . . . .

[My vote will] change me either into somebody who does or does not say yes to grave and intrinsic evil. Make that choice enough—and in enough souls—and the destiny of a nation is determined.


Contra Shea’s apparent implication, voting for a candidate who supports some form of evil does not necessarily mean the voter is actively promoting (“saying yes to”) that evil. Still, while we’re eager to vote against the candidate we perceive as more evil, we usually neglect to condemn the evil of the candidate we support. Even as we fight one evil, we look like we’re condoning another.

And although I’ve already cast a ballot in this election, I’d like to head off a common line of criticism against Mitchell and Shea’s arguments: Refusing to vote is not the same as sticking one’s head in the sand or accepting the status quo. In addition to the seemingly apolitical ways we contribute to the  polis , we can write to our political officeholders, lobby for reforms, circulate petitions, participate in demonstrations, advance our political views through writing, support the groups that represent our views on important issues, etc. Someone who does all those things will probably have a greater long-term effect on our political scene than someone who votes and does nothing else.

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