For many American Christians, Election 2016 presents a troubling dilemma. Some say that it’s unlike any dilemma they’ve faced in their lifetime, while others are frustrated to meet this kind of dilemma yet again. Regardless of which one is true, the problem is the same for these believers: They cannot in good conscience cast a vote for either presidential nominee from the two major parties.
Such a realization can often be disarming. If one feels that neither major party candidate is acceptable for them, what should they do? Does feeling unable in good conscience to vote for a national nominee mean that you must sit out the election process entirely? Does it mean that by not voting for candidate A you are actually voting for candidate B, or vice versa? Given all this confusion and pressure, might not the best option just be to stay home on Election Day, and avoid getting caught up in it all?
I don’t think so. Regardless of where you are in thinking about this year’s presidential election, I would like to offer you three simple reasons why you should still make the drive to your local polling location on Nov. 8.
1. Presidential politics aren’t the only politics that matter
If you are one of the many Christians who has decided that neither major party political candidate is acceptable to you, it may seem as if there’s no point in participating in this year’s election. But I would argue that this feeling arises from a deeply flawed understanding of the political process, and perhaps even of what politics really is.
On your ballot on Election Day will be names for many offices, some national, some specific to your state, and some even specific to your home city. Our media-saturated culture often obsesses over the biggest races while ignoring completely state, city, and hometown politics. This is a mistake. Election Day does not exist solely to elect the next president. It exists to allow voters to exercise their citizenship over every sphere of public government, from the city council, to circuit judges, to state representatives. Contrary to the impression you might get from watching cable news, each of these offices matter to you as a Christian citizen. Failing to steward civic responsibility wisely over the “smaller” offices of our government is a failure to see all of public life in the light of Christ’s authority.
2. There is no such thing as a “wasted” vote
I’ve heard from several friends who feel like their only option in the ballot booth this year is to “waste” their vote, either by voting for a third-party candidate or writing in a candidate. In their mind, this kind of action is no better than staying home.
But this is incorrect. The concept of a “wasted” vote is a logical fallacy. A vote can only be “wasted” if the purpose of voting is to always pick a winner. But surely that’s not what voting is. Voting is an action of conscience and stewardship that transcends parties and polling. The wonderful truth about our American system of government is that citizens are allowed to vote their conscience, no matter how far their conscience steers them away from the most famous, most well-funded candidates.
If you feel that you cannot vote for the major party candidates in good conscience, you have alternatives. At the very least, you can choose to write in the name of a candidate who is worthy of the civic authority your vote would bestow. This action is not lazy or wasteful; it’s the essence of what it means to vote faithfully.
3. Election Day is ultimately about Judgment Day
Almost every time someone has made the case to me for staying at home on Election Day, they have talked about their vote exclusively in terms of themselves. “The problem is that I can’t vote for either candidate,” they’ll say, “so I don’t understand why I should have to waste my time.”
The problem here is that the vote isn’t just about my reasons or my convenience — it’s ultimately about the kingdom of Christ and the well-being of my neighbor.
As Christians, we are tasked not only with the proclamation of the gospel to all the nations, but with the promotion and preservation, when possible, of righteousness and mercy. This is why we make a case for the human dignity of the unborn even to those who reject the gospel — not because to be pro-life is to be Christian, but because it matters to God whether our communities preserve or persecute the innocent.
Carrying out this task requires two things: knowing about where we can work for righteousness in our culture and doing what we can, where we can. Our vote is the most basic, least time-consuming, most direct way that we as believers can fulfill our mandate (though certainly not the only way). Even if we can only in good conscience vote for one person on the entire ballot, we must do so, because the stewardship demanded of us does not change depending on who wins the general election.
Samuel D. James is an alumnus of Boyce College and is a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He blogs regularly at samueldjames.net.