Why I cast a ballot but not a vote

Across social media platforms friends and acquaintances are urging one another to get out and exercise their democratic right to vote. Those who don’t vote, so the popular wisdom goes, have neither the right to complain nor the right to express a political opinion. What’s more, they cheapen the sacrifices of many women and men who have died in defense of our nation.

I see their point, and respect their opinion. However, this year I chose to do something I have never done in a presidential election since voting in my first one back in 1996. I chose to cast a ballot, but not a vote. In other words, I chose to not make a choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (or a non-major candidate).


Some of you may find this a curious choice. I wrote earlier about why I was considering not voting in the election this year. Read “The Obama Conundrum”).

I am not a political realist. I don’t care much for making a choice between candidates simply because there are only two feasible options. I don’t feel the need violate some of my deepest religious convictions.

I stand by what I wrote earlier.

If I vote for Barack Obama I am casting a ballot for one of the most pro-choice presidents. [Note: My theological belief that all humanity is created in the image of God leads me to value life. For this reason I am deeply skeptical of capital punishment, to the point of thinking there ought to be a moratorium on it. I am also deeply skeptical of war and have a hard time understanding the almost frivolous attitude of some politicians toward it.] A good society is not one that kills its unborn children. And while it may be good to help those in need, it’s also true that the government brings with it a profound ability to dehumanize those it seeks to help, simply by the scale of its operation. The government is also unable to make moral distinctions based on anything other than utilitarian concerns.

On the other hand, neither is a good society one that abandons those most vulnerable to ‘fate.’ The Republican party has become the party of economic liberalism. Taking their cue from Adam Smith’s philosophical reflections (which are predicated on a sub-Christian understanding of morals, by the way) the Republican party has come to espouse the individual as the supreme economic actor. There is no authority (or at least few) that may interfere with the economic actions of the individual. All that is require is mutual consent (analogous to cultural liberalism’s ethics above). A fair wage is what a person may command in the current market; a fair price is what the product will command. There is no moral calculus beyond this, and any effort to introduce one distorts the sovereign market.

That’s why I cast a ballot, but not a vote for the office of President of the United States.

2 Replies to “Why I cast a ballot but not a vote”

  1. Thanks for posting and not voting, Jeff!

    I think you fall for a caricature of both the Republican party and classic Liberalism; though, even taken at face value, your dichotomy begs the question: what role the state if not the small government vision of classical liberalism?

    If the national Democratic party had its way, no mediating instution would compete in sovereignty with the saving state. Under Obama, it has belittled employers, churches, and other faith instutions, bullied the opposition party, and along the way, created the most partison “executive” branch I have seen in my lifetime.

    I voted today for a person I thought would maximize the freedom of individuals, churches, employers and other entities to walk out their vocations before God, accountable to him with checks along the way by other human institutions. For that to happen, the executive would need to be competent. Our current Executive knows nothing of the private sector or econimics, and has made disaserous choices for the economic health of those he governs. He has done so while blaming others for his faults and failing to listen to opposing voices. His judgment has proven suspect (healthcare has already caused a significant loss of jobs in the rural community in which I live, and it was enacted at a time when the economy, rather than government takeover of another large industry, should have been the priority), his methods counterproductive (see the bailout, the Volt, and foreign policy) and at times scandalous (see Libya and Solindra). So I cast my vote elsewhere.

    But leaving aside the incompetence and poor judgment that he has demonstrated in the past four years, I think his vision of government is mistaken. I can’t say for certain that his failure as president and his vision of government go hand in hand, but your post calls into question the classical Liberal economic view that many in the Republican party (and just as many in the Democratic party, by the way) hold. It is not an amoral view to hold that the state should not make moral choices for individuals and other human institutions. Freedom of religion means that I have a “right” before the state to worship no god or any god without interference from the state. I am still accountable to God, to my family, to my bishop, pastor, etc, who may punish me as well. The state is incompetent to compel worship. Likewise, it is incompetent to enforce (though it may encourage or favor) moral economic choices to a large degree. Liberalism believes the individuals, churches, employers, and charities, left in freedom, will make wise and benevelent choices. The state is incompetent to be a good steward or loving neighbor with the resources with which God has entrusted me.

    The modern national Democratic party (not necessarily the local party and parties) ignores this fact, denigrates mediating institutions, behaves arrogantly with regard to state power, and often keeps families and small businesses (econmically) and churches (as a matter of consciensce — see, HHS mandates under Obamacare) from operating freely in their own communities. This is immoral. And I refuse to support it with my vote, and though the alternative is not great, it would violate my conscience to abet the current President in another year of sqaundering the resources of those who could actually help the poor and others in need.

    At least that’s the way I see it.

    Thanks for you many, many good posts, Jeff, including this one!


    1. Thanks for commenting Mike. I always appreciate your thoughts and the way you express them. You make many good points, I even agree with some of them! Some of the reasons you list led me to withhold my vote from the president. From where I stand withholding one’s vote from one candidate ought not to necessitate casting it in another direction. Instead, I looked to Mitt Romney and found myself disagreeing in some pretty significant ways from his capitalistic vision for the US. Eight years of George W Bush and an severe recession should give conservatives pause about the laissez faire amongst them and lead, I would hope, to a better conservatism–one more taken by Burke than Rand.


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