An Argument For Voting Your Conscience

A Beginner’s Guide to Voting in 2016 in 3 Easy Steps

As convention season is almost over and we start racing for the general elections, it’s important to remind ourselves of some of the important parts about exercising our wonderful right to vote! Keep in mind folks: we’re voting for someone who will be our country’s chief executive as President. We’re not voting for who is the best candidate at running for President.

1. Think about what matters to you

Personal attacks that dominate politics today (though not exclusive to our modern elections) are only as effective as We the People allow them to be. While attacks that highlight deceitful behavior or bigotry may be warranted as they reflect on a candidate’s character and the way they will lead or will pursue policy, some attacks are visceral but ultimately meaningless to the election.

While many will find it disdainful for a candidate to attack another candidate’s spouse, let’s remind ourselves what this election is about! We should be greatly concerned that the twenty-five thousand ‘❤’s at the time of this writing are in fact twenty-five thousand voters who actually believe that the attractiveness two candidates’ wives (compared with obviously cherry-picked photos) has any bearing on a candidate’s abilities as a president.

Educate yourself- in our complex world there are many socioeconomic issues discussed and at stake (via the policies our next president will influence) in the upcoming election. Instead of giving in to the pandering and fear-mongering, you choose which issues are the most important to you. And instead of relying on soundbites from candidates, dig in to the sources. If you’re unable to find definitive evidence on an issue and have information from soundbites, use resources like FactCheck.org or Politifact.com to ensure that you’re getting an unbiased view.

Whether it’s the economy or the environment or defense or universal social rights, look at the candidates’ stances on issues, and if stances are vague, demand a plan! Some non-partisan foundations are even dedicated to helping you ask these important questions.

Make this election about America’s future, not a beauty pageant.

2. There’s (almost) no such thing as a wasted vote

While many hold strategic views to voting such as the ‘risk management’ view of voting for the candidate most likely to win that isn’t the candidate which you hate, such a vote may not adequately express your view (see 1. above).

These strategic votes apply to many disenchanted voters today. But please, vote for someone with whom your view align and for someone who is actually running for president! There are those in the Bernie or Bust camp who refuse to vote for anyone other than Bernie Sanders, who is no longer running for president. Voting for a former candidate who is no longer running or for a comedic news anchor doesn’t send a very clear message. Does it say ‘I’m mad that my candidate pulled out of the race but even though he’s not under consideration I still believe he’ll (or she’ll) be appreciative of my vote’ or maybe ‘I really hate everyone out there but instead of working on finding the best candidate for me I’m voting for flag-planting and bald eagles.’*

And this line of thinking applies to both sides of the aisle. What of those that lean right? They believe in a conservative fiscal policy but may be appalled by Trump’s bigotry. For them though, the risk averse path might be voting Trump instead of what they perceive is the ‘socialist’ option. Orrrrr… they can reassess the field and vote how they like!

So both sides of the aisle can vote how they like and make their voice heard. And voting isn’t the only way to do so! Write someone a letter (or email?)! Write an open letter on Medium! Worst though, is not voting in order to send a message. What message are you trying to send?

I’m going to make myself heard… by staying silent!
-Non-voters everywhere

3. Political parties are neither immutable nor immortal

The United States currently has a two-party system. The United States has virtually always had a two-party system (literal SparkNotes here). But the parties we have today are not the parties we’ve always had, and are not necessarily the parties we’ll always have. In fact, the tide of political parties in the first century of our nation is practically- well- artistic.

Many times in history have decisive issues have cracked the political landscape and we may be witnessing that exact thing over the coming election season and the one that follows. Those issues may be foreign policy, economic protectionism, abolitionism, and many more. Even nativist rhetoric seen today once made it’s way to the formation of the Know Nothing party.

If a candidate from one of the two major parties does not adequately represent your view, it is not a waste to vote for a 3rd party candidate such as Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. In fact, you won’t be the only one. This in fact (in addition to volunteering and monetary support), is how to show that you support a candidate.

4. Bonus: It’s not just about the presidential elections

For those of you with more than just a cursory care about the outcome of our country’s political landscape, don’t forget, you can vote more than once every four years! What’s more, this November, 34 of the Senate’s 100 seats are up for re-election. If you really want to send a message, consider voting for not only a president but for a Senator (if you’re in a state where a Senate seat is up) as well. For all of talk of ‘grassroots’ campaigns, and ‘outsiders’ taking on the political establishment, frighteningly little of this action is happening on the local level. It starts from the bottom!

Voting is your right, take the right and your ability to exercise that right seriously!

*Note: We should always be voting for bald eagles.