As I write this, America is just four days from choosing its president for the next four years. This has been touted as perhaps the most important election in ‘our’ collective lifetime. If you believe the ads that both candidates have conjured up against the other, it’s important because if you don’t vote or if you vote for the wrong man, you are somehow in league with the devil. But over-the-top claims of evil, incompetence, or both notwithstanding, we should vote because we have the privilege and responsibility to do so in a free country.
I must confess: I didn’t vote in the last election. I was going under the knife on election day for neck surgery and was quite incapacitated the previous few days that I was home from a ten-week trip photographing New Testament manuscripts in the United Kingdom. This time around I have no excuse, and have already done my civic duty (just before another surgery, as it turned out).
I am disturbed by an alarming number of millennials, gen-xers, and others younger than myself who have shown great apathy about their right to vote. I’d like to address just some of the excuses they have offered, and conclude with some final comments.
- “I’m not excited about either candidate.” I’ve never been excited about any candidate for president whom I’ve been allowed to vote for in the past forty years. But that hasn’t stopped me from voting. And for many of those years, early voting had too many restrictions which excluded me. This made election day my one and only option, even though it often was inconvenient. If you have studied the issues (and you should have), you will most likely have formed an opinion about which candidate fits in with your principles better. Even if it’s a slight difference, it’s usually enough to pick one or the other.
- “Voting in this election is choosing the lesser of two evils, but it’s still choosing evil.” You’ll never find a candidate who agrees with you on everything. You’ll never find a spouse who agrees with you on everything. (And if you do, run—he or she is no good for you!) If you’re waiting for utopia to take place, you’re in for a long wait. And it is not choosing evil when you vote for a candidate who has blind spots. It is choosing evil when you decide not to vote because you have removed yourself from the people who are selecting the next leader of the country. By choosing not to vote, you are choosing to do nothing. That may seem safe. After all, when you aim at nothing you always hit your target. As Edmund Burk famously declared, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” If the wrong person is elected and you didn’t vote, you’re contributing to the problem.
- “I’m in a state where candidate A (or candidate B) is a shoe-in; my vote won’t count anyway.” That’s fallacious reasoning. This is going to be a very close election—very close. And even in solid blue states or solid red states, the spread is almost never more than 10% between the candidates. With enough people having the attitude that you have who belong to the same party, the results in your state could flip on election day. Let’s say that there are 1.75 million people that the pollsters anticipate will vote Democrat in your state, and two million who they say will vote Republican in your state. That’s a hefty spread—12.5%. But what if 10% of the anticipated Republican voters decide not to bother since it’s a done deal, and just 5% more Democrats than anticipated turn up? Your state and all its electoral-college votes go to the Democrat. And if you’re one of those Republicans who chose not to vote, you only have yourself to blame.
In the past fifty-two years, the percentage of eligible voters who actually voted in a presidential election ranges from 49% to 63%. The numbers steadily declined from 1960 (63%) to 1988 (50%), but have looked more like the Dow Jones Industrial Average (going up and down) in the last several election cycles. The 1960s all had percentages in the 60s; no decade, nor any election since, has matched that. This means that effectively your one vote is worth almost two. (Is it a coincidence that beginning in 1971, the legal voting age dropped from 21 to 18, with a corresponding lower percentage ever since?) And what if 90% of one party were to vote and only 60% of the other party were to vote? The 90% side would win every election, every state.
Furthermore, even if you have no opinion about which presidential candidate is better, you should know that there are many candidates on the ballot. Senators, congressmen and congresswomen, judges, and many other kinds of candidates are on the ballot, not to mention amendments and laws touching our lives in very personal ways. In Frisco, Texas, where I live, there were a couple of amendments just for the city that were on the ballot. Does your vote not count for these candidates or these amendments?
- “My spouse and I would have voted for different candidates, so we decided both to stay home to cancel out each other’s vote.” Again, there are more issues and candidates to vote on than just the office of president. Is your marriage in such disarray that you cannot agree on even one item on the list? Further, if you don’t vote, you in a real sense give up your right to complain about who gets elected. And it’s an American pastime to complain about our government!
As Christians, we are supposed to pray for those in positions of authority. And to the extent that we can effect change through peaceful means, we are given that right as well. If governmental authorities are ministers of God, as Paul says in Romans 13, then the rights that they give us in a free society to vote is one that we should not neglect. We actually have the right to vote for who will be the governmental ministers of God! Christians have become more civic minded in recent years, recognizing that though we are not of the world, we are in it. And part of this fact implies that we should not neglect the privilege, even the responsibility, to vote. We are to be salt and light in our society. Gone are the days when Christians thought en masse that their sole duty to society was to escape from it and/or condemn it. Although we recognize that salvation cannot come through the government, we also recognize that we are in a society that has collectively a distorted Imago Dei, but an Imago Dei nonetheless. We should affirm the things that our society does right, and address the things it does wrong. But to restrict ourselves to our own holy huddle, to not get involved in righting wrongs in our society, is sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about the message of salvation, but the implications of the gospel are often worked out in our relationship to society. Working for a better society is both pre-evangelism and post-evangelism. I urge you to consider it a sacred duty of yours to vote. Good men and women have died to grant us that privilege. We do not honor them when we stay home on election day.
14 thoughts on “Why We Should Vote”
“If the wrong person is elected and you didn’t vote, you’re contributing to the problem”
‘If you do/don’t do X, you’re not being a good Christian’ is slippery and dangerous. I will vote for certain local politicians, but as far as President? I watched for months as my fellow Christians castigated the one consistent, honest (perhaps too much an idealogue, yes), pro-life, constitutional candidate for President and threw him out of the race. Now I’m pressured to vote for a middle-of-the-road, statist, war-hawk, pro-abort when rape or incest man who is bankrolled by the same slick mercantilists as O… and I’m to blame if the country falls further?
On this one, Dr. Wallace (and Dr. James White as well), I will have to disagree – but otherwise much brotherly love from NY.
Justin, I quite agree with you. We need to remember that the president takes an oath to defend the Constitution, then ask ourselves — who among the choices demonstrates the best commitment to do that? If the answer is no one we’re under no compulsion to choose. There are other elections (you mention local races) and we too easily forget that most of the economic and social issues of great concern are constitutionally within the purview of Congress, not the president. With the latter, foreign policy is the utmost concern.
I voted for the candidate you allude to above in my state primary; I will not cast a vote for president in this upcoming general election. But I will vote for other candidates for other offices. And my family and I will pray for whomever is elected president, as we have prayed for Mr. Obama over the past four years.
I’ll pray for your surgery. Also, congratulations on your Top Scorer award. ; – }
Thank you for the important work you do so well, and the integrity (and humor) with which you deliver it. God Bless.
Dan, thanks for encouraging us all to get out and vote! We are looking forward to having you come to Tampa in February!
I pray the right person should be elected or else America will regret like “some other countries”. Thanks for the post Prof. Keep the good work.
Dan: Thanks for those comments. As one who has served in our nation’s military, I find it most troubling that the sacrifices made by our armed forces, including the deaths of many fine individuals, are so easily swept aside by those who refuse to exercise their right and responsibility to vote. I am equally disappointed in those who are quite vocal about how messed up our government is, yet do nothing about it through their vote. We have a responsibility as Christians (as you pointed out) to be an influence in our culture, and what better way than to vote and thus have an effect on how our government operates? I think far too many Christians view things as black and white, which has no relation to reality. Each candidate (usually) has positive and negative points with respect to our own beliefs and committments, and thus there is a way to sort out whom we best align. That is not to say that the decisions will always be easy, but then again the most significant decisions we make are usually difficult. Unfortunately, I think far too many Christians have fallen for the “things have to get worse before Christ will come again,” and so why not just let them progress for the worse. That does not seem to me to view Christ’s kingdom work and challenges for His disciples in a very positive light: we are to be salt and light in the world, but we won’t have much success. How is that reassuring regarding the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the body of Christ as His presence made manifest in the world? I’m really confused here!!! Unfortunately, the world of politics is not a black and white, zero sum game. There are advances, however big or small, and there are set backs. We must work for the advances and praise the Lord when they come, and we must deal with the set backs and praise the Lord as well. What we must not do is remove ourselves from the public square where we can have some influence, and then lament how “evil” that square becomes. The bottom line here is this: do the right thing, the difficul thing, and vote for the candidate who best aligns with your beliefs and values, be a positive influence in our culture . . . it is your right and responsibility.
Well said, Jim! Very well said!
Dr. Wallace knows I have the highest respect for what he says in his area of expertise. I am tremendously thankful for my freedoms and those who have stood up for them and died. I am willing to die as well and have made what I consider to be significant sacrifice for what was right in the corporate arena and in the church of all places. This country’s freedoms include the right to God-led convictions NOT TO VOTE for either. I will not be guilted into feeling I have an obligation to vote. I have well-researched reasons. Humbleness always includes the possibility one might be wrong, including me and including you.
Thank you for your timely comments–I voted today. Now in my late 60s and having been a student at Cal, Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement (1964), which morphed into the Filthy Speech Movement the following year, I don’t believe that any election in my life-time seems to be as important as this one. The topic of this year’s election issues which are important for Christians arose this past week during a meeting of Christian faculty at a Texas state university. Of course, two categories took center stage; namely, social/cultural issues and fiscal issues. Foreign policy is close behind. These issues are current and very serious. But perhaps a more serious issue, no matter who occupies the White House after the first of the year, is what Os Guinness calls, the sustainability of freedom and the juxtaposition of it’s two pillars, constitutional freedom (structure of liberty) and habits of the heart (the spirit of liberty). While we can remain silent in the public square, we can never remove ourselves from it. All this to say, your vote counts, so please exercise your responsibility as an American citizen and vote.
I will vote but I am not sure that those who don’t vote are simply being apathetic. There are good reasons to abstain from the political process in a game that is rigged (and not in the favor or direction of the Kingdom of God).
Pingback: Why We Should Vote « Soapbox
Why are we so heatedly debating the marking of a ballot? How have things gotten so far out of hand, is perhaps what we should be asking.
I voted against Obama in 2008. What good did it do me? The problem we need to fix is the moral vacuum we have in this country. The fact that Obama got into office at all should have sounded the alarm. Perhaps we don’t talk about this because it would mean individual self-sacrifice. We might have to adapt our lifestyle to accommodate extra time to pursue actual change, become involved in our communities, develop our own relationship with God, etc. So much harder than just marking a ballot. Wakeup church. When God’s hand of judgment comes (and I feel it has) it will matter little who’s on first base.
I disagree i think that no christian should support anybody who does not have Holy Scripture as there foundation and neither candidate believe in Holy Scripture.
The right to vote comes with it the right to abstain.
Comments are closed.