I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva


with 3 comments

There are a variety of reasons you might vote for someone (or no one!) in a primary or an election (obviously, I write this as an American). Here are a few; perhaps you can think of others.

  1. I’m voting for someone because I believe he is the best person for the job
  2. I’m voting for someone because I believe he is relatively righteous and wise. I willingly designate or ratify him to act as as my representative in those decisions entrusted to him.
  3. I’m voting for someone because, among those candidates likely to win, he is the most acceptable or least unacceptable to me
  4. I am voting for no one, because in some way I believe the system itself is either unrighteous (e.g., too much power and privilege is arrogated to a particular office), or because in some other way the system has failed (two-party stranglehold, nomination process failure, etc.)
  5. I am voting for no one, because of the terrible cost-benefit ratio. My vote is unlikely to make a difference, and I can achieve more good by doing something else.

This is all complicated by the fact that voting is a prisoner’s dilemma. Perhaps you would gladly vote according to #1 or #2 as long as everyone else did, but if you expect most people to vote in terms of #3 there is a powerful temptation for you to do so as well. If you were the only person voting, then there would be some ethical obligation to vote in terms of #1 or #2. But since your vote is incredibly diluted, it becomes difficult to attach ethical imperatives to it. Individual votes are so unlikely to determine the outcome of elections that economists frequently describe voting as irrational, at least in terms of the goal of influencing an election outcome. As my friend Mark Horne insightfully observes with a reductio ad absurdum, if we have an ethical obligation to vote, then by implication we have a much greater ethical obligation to put up campaign signs in our yards, something that takes little effort but will have a greater effect on the election outcome.

I am convinced that as Christians we are free to vote according to any of the strategies above. Among these strategies, we do not have warrant to describe any as fundamentally unrighteous or evil, and we cannot bind each other’s consciences to any of them. Instead, we should consider these strategies in terms of wisdom and tactics. This is a matter for persuasion and not invective.

I understand the case for a lesser-of-two-evils strategy, and I have voted that way in the past for presidential elections. This year I am not, for several reasons. Although my vote is statistically unlikely to make any practical difference, I want to use it for its symbolic value. Chiefly, I see my vote as an opportunity to stand for righteousness and against unrighteousness. Obviously, I am speaking in terms of a relative human righteousness and not an absolute righteousness. But both presidential candidates are campaigning to perpetuate gross unrighteousness and foolishness, and voting for a third candidate is a way I can symbolically avoid “sitting with” or casting my lot with the wicked. Even though my vote makes no practical difference, it is still a privilege to participate in the process, and I hesitate to spend this privilege on an unrighteous candidate.

I also want my vote to send a more practical symbolic message. First, I believe that as a general rule, America needs to put the brakes on the growth of political power, and to experience a general shift in power from the national to the local level. By writing in an alternate candidate, I can express my belief that the presidential election should not matter as much as it is currently made out to be. Second, I want to send a message to the Republican party establishment, both that its nomination process is broken, and that I refuse to be taken for a fool. How many times should I be willing to believe false promises to deliver movement on abortion and limited government? I stand for righteousness and not for a party.

Would I prefer one of the two likely winners to the other? Probably. But rooting for a candidate does not require me to vote for him, any more than it requires me to deface my car’s bumper with his sticker. Additionally, I don’t feel confident in tracing out all of the implications of supposedly better and worse paths of unrighteousness and foolishness over the course of time. In the end, I will vote for righteousness but also pray for it, entrusting the outcome to God.

Perhaps you are unpersuaded and will vote for the lesser of two evils; you can do so in good conscience. Certainly, in any case, we have more important opportunities to make a bigger difference:

  1. We are to participate earnestly in the worship of the church, prayer and evangelism. This is the only means by which any enduring cultural change will come about.
  2. If you vote, research your local elections at least as diligently as the national ones.
  3. After the election, write your elected officials at all levels to advocate for righteousness.

Perhaps you have suggestions for my presidential write-in. I’ve not decided yet.

Jesus is king!

Written by Scott Moonen

October 11, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Posted in Miscellany

3 Responses

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  1. I agree wholeheartedly with your post, Scott. I think that this election is the first in a while that it is possible to send a symbolic message by voting for a third party, because it seems like there is so little enthusiasm out there for either candidate.

    I am a registered Republican and was hoping that Romney/Ryan and the GOP would do/say something to convince me to vote for them, but they have not. I do not feel like they even want my vote, so I will not waste such a great privilege on them. I would have to compromise my personal principles to vote for Obama or Johnson, and there is no one else on our ballot, so I will be writing someone in as well. You don’t have to look further than the back of my car to know who I would suggest you write in🙂

    I especially agree with your last three points, though. We do have more important ways to make a difference. I hope many people will take your advice on how to do that!


    October 11, 2012 at 11:04 pm

  2. Scott, thanks for this post and though I agree for the most part, I believe I will offer another reason to vote, a #6 , if you will (on the presidential level). I have a few things to note first. In terms of presidency, which appears to be referred to here, the role of the president is not to be “my representative” as noted on #2, we have “representatives” that we elect in our representative Republic, not just one “representative”. Perhaps this was assumed but not stated, either way, he must be relatively/reasonably wise and righteous (according to human standards as you said) yet the president is catering to an entire nation not just a small group in “Raleigh NC” and thus he will take broad views that will undoubtedly not match my own. Romney, for example I do not agree with on many issues, yet as a #3 reason he may be best suited compared to Obama as much as I hate to say it. But I have a better reason to vote for “the lesser of the evils”: #6 Since the office of presidency also has the veto power and bully pulpit, if a significant change were to occur in the Senate and House where conservatives become a majority, and a greater “moral influence” were to occur in DC enough to cause a majority of honest laws to be put forth, which candidate would “go along with” the will of the people at that time and which would stand in the way of that progress?

    Many people see the president as “king” on the chess board when in reality there is no king, politicians are all pawns (and other more minor characters) that are strategically placed for the protection of the “true king” of our land: “Rule of Law: Righteous Law”. Seeming that Romney is not an honest or righteous man, it becomes difficult to see him as a man that can be trusted. I don’t trust him, but I do trust that he will cater to conservatives if we gain the majority. I do trust that Obama would not. I do trust that Romney will replace Bernanke with someone “less liberal”, and there is a chance that he will elect a conservative Judge. With Obama I trust that he will not. So, what I am suggesting is while I’m waiting for the perfect righteous ruler to appear, I want to support a ruler that will not get in the way of righteous law being put forth (Legislative and Judicial) and thus I think Romney, on that level, would be a desirable choice. I think #4 and #5 are completely valid for someone frustrated with the system, but in the end it will be on each of our consciences if we had the chance to overthrow legislation like Roe V Wade and the President exercised his veto power because I was a bit irritated that the GOP is corrupt (or whatever my reasoning for not voting for the major parties). The system is broken, but the founders didn’t expect it would be fixed right away by one leader, as you noted, it will take all of us working hard and it will take years working with flawed leaders that we don’t fully agree with or trust.

    I totally agree with your further points of activity in church, influencing culture, local leaders etc, I think these will have a greater positive impact than “voting” one way or another in a national election.

    Anthony Adams

    October 14, 2012 at 4:39 am

  3. Thanks, all. Anthony, I intended “representative” in a broader sense, but I understand what you’re saying and am sympathetic with your reasoning. Peter Leithart offers an additional factor to consider here: http://www.leithart.com/2012/10/16/whats-voting-for/. I’m sympathetic with that, too.

    Either way, my individual vote is truly not going to be make or break for Romney. That’s very liberating. And regardless of access, we can and should speak with Jesus’s own authority on the critical issues of our day.

    Scott Moonen

    October 17, 2012 at 10:04 am

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