The Ethical Dilemma: Do I Really Have to Vote?

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Do I Really Have To Vote? I really don’t like any of the candidates—not the main two, not the others. I really don’t care to give my vote to any of them. But everyone always says it’s one’s duty to vote.

Isn’t my real duty to be true to myself and not endorse someone I don’t think should be in a position of power and leadership?

—Feeling Queasy

Dear Queasy,

Of course, you can do whatever you want. Vote for one of the candidates on the ballot, write in a name (Elvis, Mickey Mouse, and God are among your infinite choices), stay home, whatever. It’s your right to vote, which includes your right not to vote.

But here’s the thing: As the Beatles sang, “Life goes on within you and without you.”  (Ironically, the song mentions “the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion, never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late.”) Regardless of what you do or don’t do, the election will take place and someone will win. That someone is in all probability going to be one of the two major party candidates. When a race is close, each vote may truly have the potential to tip the balance, but even when a contest promises to favor one or another candidate heavily, your vote matters. If loads of people figure one candidate will win so there’s no point in making a trip to the polls, either that person will win as expected or lose because too many people opted to sit it out, or some outcome other than predicted because the polls were—as they always are—imperfect.

It’s not always easy to do one’s civic duty not only to vote, but to vote intelligently. There have been times I have completely forgotten there was an election (though never for presidential contests) or I had no idea who was running further down the ballot or I was totally unfamiliar with some of the propositions that I was supposed to decide. Once inside the voting booth (or lately, at one of those awful semi-private counters), I’d fleetingly consider—and dismiss—choosing by party or gender or whatever for the ones “I didn’t know would be on the test.” But the fact is, when I am conversant with the issues and candidates, I often cross party lines to whichever option I believe is better. And as much as I’d like to see more women and minorities in office, there are some women who are worse—for women and everyone else—than their male opponents. And blindly voting for a minority is just as misguided as blindly voting against a minority. Casting an uninformed vote is even worse than just leaving it blank.

It’s important to find out about everyone and everything that will be on the ballot before you’re standing there trying to fill in the blanks. Because in elections, “wrong” answers really can count against you in very real ways. You really owe it to yourself—and to all of us—to consider which of candidates would be better or worse and cast your vote for the one you think is more positive/less negative.  For an excellent tutorial (although I don’t understand what’s wrong with raisins in cookies), check out John Oliver’s clip on the subject.

To vote for anyone else or no one abdicates responsible action. Yes, it’s your prerogative to do whatever you want, including nothing. But I hope you will behave as though the entire election were up to you and you alone. Vote as if your life and all our lives depend on it.