Why You Should Vote: The Power of Choice And The Limits of Abstinence

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It’s that time again, time to vote in the presidential/vice presidential election, held once every 4 years. And alongside of this, there are local elections as well. Based upon where you live, you’ll vote for candidates in your county in the US. With COVID-19 and political unrest in the US, a number of voters, even Christians, are asking themselves, “Is anything worth voting for?” The answer to this is a resounding yes.

Here’s why.

Why you should vote

Why should we vote? Some Americans would prefer not to because, for one reason or other, they don’t believe in or want either the incumbent President or Joe Biden in office as the nation’s highest leader. But there’s a good reason to vote — and it has to do with not only the leadership of the country but also common logic.

First, let’s get to the leadership reason. You should vote because that’s the way leaders are voted into this country. As an American citizen, voting is a privilege granted to you as an American citizen. Someone who isn’t an American citizen (say, an undocumented immigrant or someone from another country) cannot vote in America’s election. It is solely a privilege granted to those who are citizens of this country, who pay taxes, who live here, who have sworn allegiance to the USA. While it isn’t mandated by the Federal Government that you vote, you should vote to take advantage of a privilege given to you.

Voting in America exists because it is a democratic ideal, and the US is a Democratic Republic. Now, some will focus on the “Republic” part because it says that we elect representatives to office who work on our behalf. And this is true; and yet, those representatives are only there in government because we elect them. We get to determine who represents us and our interests, and when leaders stop representing those interests, we can “make them pay” by casting our ballot at the voting booth. This is how we hold leaders accountable to the interests we hold: we use the vote to ensure they’re doing the job they were elected by the people to do. Now, to be sure, we’re not the only ones voting, so we can’t ensure that our candidate(s) will always get elected.

But by making the election a tight race, we show the candidate who wins that he or she (yes, even women can serve as President; I’m praying a female President will arise one day, Lord willing!) has a lot of work to do to unify the country. The country has always been divided when choosing the President; that will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future. But, either way, the power of the vote is one we can exercise to 1) choose the leaders we want and 2) send a message to those we don’t want, whether they’re elected or not. Despite all the political unrest around us, the American vote is still the way to change things in this country.

Why should you vote? You should vote because you, an American citizen (I’m talking to Americans here) have the power to change things. For those of you reading this that are international, you have a process in your own country by which you can elect leaders. And if you’ve been given the opportunity to vote, you should take it seriously. Though you haven’t died for the vote, there are people who have. Though you’ve been handed the right to vote on a silver platter, chances are, some of your ancestors weren’t granted that opportunity (nor were they given it, so graciously). And perhaps you should also think about that when you decide that voting isn’t worth your time. It should be worth your time, because it costs some of your ancestors their very lives fighting for that right.

The Limits Of abstinence

A choice consists of at least two options. If there’s only one option, there isn’t a choice. So when it comes to exercising one’s privilege (or right, as many of us see it) to vote, there’s always the other option: to abstain from the vote. The word “abstinence” in this discussion will refer to abstaining from voting, not to safe sex practices, a common context for the word.

Some say, “Well, I have a right to abstain from the vote. I can abstain and choose not to vote if I don’t want to vote.” And that’s true. You have the option to abstain if your conscience so dictates.

I’m not mad at you, should you choose this because, well, it’s one of two options with regard to selecting the nation’s leaders. There was a time in my young adult life when I did the same: I abstained from voting. One such example was in the 2008 election when Barack Obama ran against John McCain. I didn’t know anything about Obama, to be honest, so I didn’t vote. I believe my vote should be educated and informed, and since I didn’t know the major issues outside of the pro-life/pro-choice discussion, which is really a straw-man argument (another topic for another post), I felt I’d be voting in ignorance and that it would make a mockery of the voting process. So I didn’t vote. So I understand what it’s like to feel as though abstaining is a choice and that by choosing to abstain, voters are exercising their choice.

And yet, when one considers abstention, he or she must remember that exercising this choice or option has limits. For those considering this option in the current 2020 election, imagine if everyone abstained. Imagine if you woke up on November 4th and discovered that everyone in the country, all 300 million+ people, decided to abstain and not vote at all. No one submitted any absentee ballots, no one visited the local voting booths, no one voted on any candidate for any office, whether local, state, or federal.

Imagine what would happen. To be sure, abstention or abstaining from voting is an option that one can choose to exercise, but if everyone believed as you do, who would be President? The incumbent. Who would be Governor? The incumbent. Who would serve as district court judges, sheriffs, and so on? The incumbents. Now, incumbent leaders are fine if you’re happy with those selections, but it’s my belief that not everyone is happy with “the way things are.” And if you’re not, and you refuse to vote, and everyone in the nation refuses to vote, then essentially, you and the nation are saying, “I’m fine with the way things are.”

Someone has to run the country, but if you choose not to vote, then you’re saying that the country is running just fine as it is, that the status quo is perfectly acceptable the way it is. I know that you don’t believe things are perfect in the US, especially considering COVID-19 and how many lives this virus has infected and killed. And I know that not everyone is happy with the injustices that have led to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Not everyone is okay with the killings of African-Americans due to police brutality (think Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others).

The only way that you can see to change happening is to vote out the incumbent leaders (that is, those who are currently in power with whom you disagree). To fail to vote is to re-elect the incumbent. If you don’t like the person in office but fail to vote, you’re giving a nod to that person you don’t like holding a second term or subsequent term in office. The whole reason why we have a 2-term limit on the Presidency anyway is because of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected to serve 4 terms as President. Yep, people liked FDR enough they wanted him to have 4 terms. So by your vote, things can change, and without your vote, things will stay the same. So when you abstain for matters of personal conscience, you have the right to do so. What you should know is that, if you make this personal decision, it could cost the country a change in leadership that it so desperately needs.

How do you know your vote is powerful?

How do you know your vote is powerful? You can know your vote is powerful because of the attempts to block your vote or dissuade voters from casting ballots. This can be clearly seen in how the postal service is being delayed in its mail delivery. There are groups out there trying to sabotage the mail-in voting process. And in California, Republicans have put out unofficial, fake ballot boxes to secure ballots and halt the voice of Democratic and anti-Trump voters. California’s Republican Party says it won’t stop promoting those unofficial ballot boxes and says that those who disagree with it will have to take them to court to stop it. What’s most disappointing is that the President of the United States agrees with these fake ballot boxes.

The efforts to either deter voters by long waiting lines at polling places, sending threatening emails to “Vote For Trump Or Else,” along with unofficial ballot boxes all show that there are those out there who will do anything to stop your vote or misdirect it so that it doesn’t count in the official election. Simply put, votes are like pennies: they may not be much by themselves, but taken together, they are a lot. And when it comes to winning the election, one vote for someone is one vote against someone else. Get enough votes in your favor, and you win the election and the Presidency.

Remember that. Whatever the President says and does, if he or she fails to live up to his or her promises, Americans can vote that person out and deny him or her a second term. And no President wants to leave office without the blessing of a second term because, once he or she is gone from office, few Americans want to re-elect him or her as President at a later date.

abstention is a vote for the incumbent: conclusion

This last reminder may not benefit those voting for Joe Biden (at least not yet, anyway), but it will benefit those sitting on the sidelines who have yet to vote. There are those Christian voters who want to vote for the candidate that they believe is pro-life. They want to vote for Trump because he says he’s pro-life, yet they don’t want to vote for him for other personal reasons. So instead of voting, they’d rather “sit this one out,” abstain from voting, and pray for the best.

And then, there are others who want to vote for Biden because he is a change, yet they don’t want to vote for Biden for personal reasons. Instead of voting for Biden, they’d rather sit it out. Some think that he’ll win the election anyway and that their vote for him isn’t gonna make a difference either way — so why vote at all? What’s the point?

For these camps, let me present a sobering reality: an abstention, a refusal to vote, regardless of reason, is a vote for the incumbent; in this case, the incumbent is Donald Trump. Those who are dissatisfied with Trump but think that Biden is a better alternative can’t afford to sit this one out because an abstention is a vote for the incumbent (Donald Trump). If you don’t vote for Biden, you aren’t voting for the change you want. Instead, you’re implicitly stating, ‘I want things to remain as they are.”

The reality is that no candidate is going to be perfect. Plenty of Republican candidates have won by their pro-life stance, yet do little to improve abortion laws for babies in this country. So with that said, a Republican shouldn’t be an automatic pick because they’re pro-life, any more than a Democratic candidate should be an automatic pick because they’re pro-choice. There are other factors, such as 1) class, 2) character, 3) economic policy, 4) the war on terror, 5) immigration, 6) COVID-19 and the progress on the vaccine, to consider. A presidential candidate may claim to be pro-life, but if he or she cares little about immigrants and doesn’t mind separating families because they’re undocumented, he or she isn’t as pro-life as they claim to be. It’s not just about positions on topics, but actions. Actions speak louder than words.

And with that I say, go vote. But whatever you do, don’t sit on the sidelines. No candidate will be perfect, and the two before us aren’t. And yet, out of these two, there is one that is fit to run the country for the next 4 years. As my grandma always said, “There’s some good in the worst of us, and some bad in the best of us.” May you not let the bad keep you from electing the best. As former President JFK once said, may you not ask what your country can do for you, but rather, what you can do for your country.