I don’t think that it would come as a shock to any of us if we learned from a poll that the vast majority of Trinity students do not support Donald Trump. Not only do they not support him, but I suspect that they view him as a kind of villain, one who is representative of all the backwards, racist, misogynistic, patriarchal errors that America has made in its past, and whose candidacy is largely in response to the election of America’s first black president. I suspect that many Trinity students feel very comfortable using Donald Trump as the subject of jokes and mock comparisons in their classes; I know I do. Even some of the faculty have been making jokes about Trump in their classrooms with little to no fear of offending any Trump supporters there. Finding Trump supporters at Trinity is about as difficult as finding one of Clinton’s missing emails.
I can’t say I’m baffled. For many of the same reasons as the rest of Trinity’s population, I do not support Trump. What did surprise me was how discontented people are with what they view as their only alternative, Hillary Rodham Clinton. While the major-party presidential candidates may not completely represent the ideology of all Republicans or Democrats, the parties and the candidates tend to do a pretty good job of appealing to almost all of their party. It is pretty much impossible for one candidate to strongly represent more than a fraction of the population, but he or she will usually fairly represent the majority of the party. This doesn’t seem to be the case for the Trinity students that I talk to. While there are more students who truly support Clinton than support Trump, there are still many that think neither candidate really deserves the presidency. They just think that Clinton is not as evil as Trump. If you’re one of those people who don’t want to vote for either of the two major party candidates, this article is for you.
You might be considering some reasons for why you shouldn’t vote. Most common is the moral-objection position. Critics of voting for hated candidates will say that your vote is your voice, your choice and your support. As such, if you hate all the candidates, you cannot in good conscience vote for any of them. To do so would deprive you of the much-envied ability to sit back as the country burns and say “I didn’t support this.” This logic I have always found interesting, but ultimately unpersuasive. Voting is viewed not as a civil act to elect another citizen to a particular office, but an ideological statement about the country as a whole and the direction that the voter does or does not want to take. I think that this has some truth, but if it is the case, then voters should vote for the candidate that they think will truly be fit for office. Third parties and write-in provisions exist, and if voting is really taking a moral stance on the direction of the country, then not to vote would be not to take a stance. How can you claim that you didn’t support a disastrous president if you didn’t vote against him or her? For the same proposed reason that you shouldn’t vote, you should.
Now surely at this point the objection is that to vote for a third party or a write-in candidate is to throw away a vote. Ignoring the fact that that assumes that voting is an act to elect a president, and not an ideological statement, which undermines the prior objection, this is just factually not true. If by “throwing away a vote” the objector means that the voter voted for a candidate with no real chance of winning (which is true: third parties and write-ins have almost no chance of winning), then the objector has associated the value of a vote with its “effect” on the outcome of the election. This continues to undermine the vote-as-an-ideological-statement view. If the value of a vote is contingent upon how it influences an election, any votes cast for the loser candidates are “wasted” inasmuch as they did not have an impact on electing the next office holder. People have conflated wasting a vote — voting for my really truly wonderful cat, for example — with merely voting for a candidate who will lose, which I have done via a write-in provision.
There are other reasons not to vote as well. Maybe you think you are not informed enough? Well, pick up the free copies of The New York Times that Trinity provides and spend 10 minutes a day reading. Maybe you don’t care, and so you don’t want to vote in an election that you have no ideological interest in. That is probably not the case if you have read this far into this article. Think that your vote won’t matter because of the infamous and terrible electoral college? Well, again ignoring the vote-as-an-ideological-statement argument and the significance-of-a-vote-as-it-determines-the-next-officeholder argument, this is also not true. The electoral college is not some anti-democratic beast out there that swallows popular will whole and transforms it into corrupt politicians who the country hates. Your vote goes to your candidate’s slate of electors for the state in which you vote, and your vote matters just as much as anyone else’s for the reasons I described above.
Voting is the fundamental liberty in a democracy. It is partly an ideological statement, but it is not just that. It is also your choice for whom you think will be fit for office. Casting your vote for only one of these two reasons isn’t fulfilling your ability to contribute to the governance of the republic.