I Refuse to Cast a Dishonest Vote


It’s election season and once again, we as Americans will be asked to make a choice; this time, as every four years, we will not only select all the members of our House of Representatives, and a substantial number of Senators, but we will choose our next president (not to mention an assortment of officeholders for various state and local offices). That we attach far more significance to the choice of a president than our Founders envisioned, and that our government has become dysfunctional to the point of near-uselessness (and in particular, our two major political parties), are worthy topics for discussion, but these will have to wait for another time.

What I want to do today is to explain my position as it regards casting a vote, the way I think about and thus approach voting, and what I expect to accomplish–and just as importantly (to the chagrin and consternation of many, I understand), what I expect not to accomplish–as I cast a ballot. Let me admit right up front: mine is a minority position, and I harbor no illusions that a significant percentage of the electorate will come around and see things my way anytime soon (though I am quite encouraged on that front: read on).

First, I see voting as an honored privilege, and thus one I try to take seriously. Would I call it a “Christian duty”? Of course not; this cannot be supported by an honest reading of Scripture, though some might employ a rather tortured hermeneutic to try to make it such. Would I call it a “civic duty”? I guess I am a bit more amenable to this term, though even there, exercising the mere privilege of voting, absent the giving of attention to the necessary attitudes and preparation which render a vote meaningful, can (should!) be seen not as the faithful discharging of a civic “duty”, but rather the neglect thereof; an ignorant (and thus an irresponsible) vote is much worse than no vote at all. Parenthetically, this is why I am strongly opposed to “mandatory voting”; you could in theory coerce a vote at the point of a gun, but there’s no way to demand education or interest.

Regardless of what we choose to term it, we should all be able to agree that our American prerogative to cast a non-coerced ballot is precious (in several respects: it was purchased in part via the shedding of blood; it is a privilege not accorded to the vast majority of people throughout human history nor even today; it was envisioned as part-and-parcel of the maintenance of freedom by our Founding Fathers; add your own compelling reasons here). Personally, while I am sometimes neglectful of opportunities to vote in more local and state races and referenda (often due to sheer ignorance and not wanting to cast a vote in such a condition), I make it my practice to vote in races of more significant national importance. I will be voting in November, in other words; more on that later.

But having said that the privilege of knowledgeably casting a vote is a significant privilege, let us also state this corollary truth which falls very hard on American ears: your individual vote will make no practical difference whatever.


We don’t like to hear that, but we know that it is true: your showing up at the ballot box in November will have no bearing one way or another on who is elected president…or anything else, for that matter. Please understand: this in no way contradicts what I wrote above, nor in any way should dissuade you at all from casting a knowledgeable vote; as I said, I plan to, as I always do.

But it is absolutely true, and it isn’t rocket science to understand it. Let’s take the presidential election, because of course this is the one which will garner the lion’s share of the attention. There are about 40-42 states–one of them being my state of South Carolina–where one solitary vote literally cannot change a outcome; it’s utterly impossible. Ask a Republican in California or New York. Ask a Democrat in Alabama or, yes, South Carolina. The GOP could nominate a cheese sandwich for the presidency, and it wouldn’t matter whether the cheese was Gouda, cheddar, or Limburger; it would carry the state of South Carolina. This election will turn on the so-called “swing states”, and the electoral outcome in the other states is essentially a foregone conclusion or, at the very least, should any ” flip”, this would be because of a “wave election”, and the swing states would almost certainly be carried by the candidate who flipped the non-swing state. In other words, if Joe Biden (whomever?) were to win South Carolina…or Donald Trump, California…the election would long-since have been decided in landslide fashion.

“But what about the swing states?” Sure…what about them? Georgia was one such state in 2020, going to President Biden by about 11,000 votes (note: if you still cling to the preposterous, evidence-free idea that the election was “stolen”, this might be a good exit ramp for you). This was, rightly, understood as a “razor-thin” margin. Now, I don’t have any razor that could shave 11,000 faces in one setting; this is a honking big country, in other words. My one vote, viewed from a practical standpoint? Zilch. Same in the famous “hanging chad” election of 2000 in Florida. If memory serves, the winning margin for Dubya was 532 votes over Captain Excitement, Algore. That’s the difference of the votes of moderately-large church, much more razor-thin than GA…but you get my point: had I been living there and voted, the margin would have been 533, and…made zero difference.

Ergo, from a purely practical standpoint–arguably only (but nonetheless importantly) from a purely practical standpoint–my single vote makes no difference. Nor does yours, Sparky.

Parenthetically–and I promise to get to my main points soon–I must make reference to a Facebook exchange I had with a friend ahead of the last big election. I made the point that I didn’t care nearly as much for whom you voted as I cared about how you behaved as a Christian toward those who voted differently from you. My friend, for whom I still have respect, told me I was wrong, and marshalled Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an example of someone who would agree with him. Sorry, but no, as a Christian, it is far, far, far more important how you treat people who differ with you (I mean, there’s stuff in the actual Bible about this; see: Jesus’ teaching) than how you vote (and this would be true even if the above paragraph were not).

Also, I have little doubt my friend is wrong on Bonhoeffer as well. But I digress…

Recapping, voting is a wonderful privilege, an expression of support for and involvement in the governance of our country, a privilege rare in the history of our world both historically and contemporarily. At the same time, from a practical standpoint, one vote makes no difference. Vote your conscience and do so knowledgeably, in other words, all while harboring no illusions that your one vote will turn an election.

These truths represent a baseline, then, for understanding how I go about deciding for whom I will, or will not, cast my vote. So allow me now to build my (minority) case for what I would call principled voting. As a Christian, this begins with a desire first and foremost to honor God in the voting booth. Now, I will not be so arrogant as to suggest that my way of voting is the only way a Christian can/should approach the subject in a Christ-honoring way; I do not believe this to be the case. At the same time, if I am committed first to honoring God, then I will not violate my conscience as I cast my vote (nor should anyone else…but please remember that my conscience is not the same as yours, nor yours mine). Further, it is then to God, and not to anyone else, that I will answer in my voting choices. As will you.

Further, committed to honoring God first, I will not use my vote to tell what I believe to be a lie. This thought only came to me very recently, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am of its importance. This may not make sense at this point, but I will explain later; trust me for now.

We are at long last–thanks for your patience–at the point of considering how my way of thinking differs from that of most people, from, dare I say, most followers of Jesus, when it comes to voting. If I persuade you, great! If I don’t, at least you will understand both how I think and why certain appeals to me (“but you must vote for ______ because if you don’t, …”) simply will never work.

Let’s start with points of agreement (I assume!), and the first is this: we should vote in accordance with our deeply-held principles. Other than, I guess, the person who writes two names in CheezWhiz on crackers, and votes for whichever one his Aussiedoodle eats first (and you have to know that somewhere, someone does essentially this), we all apply principles in choosing for whom we vote. When I describe my way of voting as “Principled Voting”, in no way do I mean to suggest that most people aren’t principled as they vote. Rather, I assume the exact opposite: these friends vote their principles, first and foremost.

But neither they–nor I–vote solely according to principle. Because while everyone votes based upon principles, everyone also votes with at least a modicum of pragmatism. I suppose there is theoretically someone who “only votes her principles”, but this would be a person who demands a candidate agree 100% with her views, that even a slight deviation or policy disagreement would kill the deal, as it were. Know anybody like that? No, me either.

Ironically, I have been accused–laughably–of demanding the “perfect candidate”. This was alleged during a recent presidential election in which I voted third-party. This was hilarious, as I explained that of the dozen-plus candidates in the primary, I would have voted for literally any of them; my exact words were that I would have “crawled over broken glass” to vote for at least most of the other choices. The comment I heard falls in line with the nonsensical old saw that, “we’re not voting for a national preacher”, to which I have offered a cash reward to anyone who can find a person saying, “when I vote for president, I am voting for a national preacher.” Go ahead…my money is still good. Maybe that person is married to Mister CheezWhiz Aussiedoodle.

So, to recap, everyone begins with principles, but then recognizing the essential impossibility of finding a candidate with whom they agree 100% of the time about 100% of the issues, people employ a measure of pragmatism. That pragmatism may also involve other things; for instance, many people will take perceived electability into their “election equation”, preferring (say in the primary) a candidate whom they think has a better chance of winning the general election, for instance, to a more ideologically like-minded candidate whom they perceive more likely to lose in the general election. I have done this as well.

I’d imagine I’ve described pretty accurately the way most folks approach voting: find the candidate whose stated policies most closely line up with their way of thinking, at least one who can actually win the election, and then throw rhetorical weight and a vote behind that person.

This is how it looks in practice, as illustrated by a conversation I had awhile back with a good friend. He has an issue upon which he votes; he proudly calls himself a “one issue voter”, essentially eliminating anyone not simpatico with him on that issue, and then voting for the person fitting that description (at least in the general election) no matter what. As I suggested to him, and he really didn’t deny, for him, after settling on the person with whom he stands on policy, it’s “pragmatism all the way down”; nothing else matters besides getting the selected candidate, with whom he is in policy agreement at least on this issue or at least more so than the opposing major candidate, elected. Even if the decision comes down to the “lesser of two evils”, my friend will choose that “lesser”, regardless of the degree of true “evil” that the “lesser” possesses. It’s in this sense that I said to him that it’s “pragmatism all the way down”.

And herein lies the difference for me and people who think like me: it is not ever “pragmatism all the way down” for me. There are for us policy principles to which we adhere and which we find valuable, and when voting, we naturally look for candidates who espouse, or at least lead us to believe they espouse, those same principles. Finding no candidate who does so perfectly, we then employ some measure of pragmatism, both in being willing to settle for 2/3 of a loaf (which would seem better than nothing) and in attempting to find a candidate who, holding those views, is also able to persuade a majority of voters to vote for him, even if perhaps he is not the candidate hewing most closely to our preferred positions. To this point, we are essentially in agreement with that majority of voters.

But it is here that our paths diverge: we insist that a candidate measure up to other principles beyond mere agreement on policy. This is because we see an office holder as more than a person who might vote in line with our interests, but also as one who must be a leader in whom, and in whose judgment, we can trust. We might well, in other words, consider some elections a choice between the lesser of two evils (I have used this term and voted this way in the past, and may again), but for us, there is a degree of “evil” that disqualifies a particular candidate…and sometimes we find that “disqualifying degree” to be present in both of the major party candidates (and probably in some minor party choices as well). When this is the case, because our pragmatism is “limited on the back end” by principle, we will cast our votes for someone else, someone who while having no chance of being elected, nonetheless does not cause us to violate our principles or our consciences.

Here I speak for myself in naming several attributes beyond stated positions on policy matters for which I look in a candidate worthy of receiving my vote.

Important, but perhaps the most negotiable of these for me, is relevant experience. I haven’t named names yet, but it will be obvious of whom I speak, when I say that I don’t believe the presidency (and perhaps the Senate as well, though less important) to be an “entry-level position”. I believe that it is harmful for a person’s first experience of governing to be at the top level of government. No, I unapologetically prefer that the person first serve in some lesser government position prior to serving as the Leader of the Free World. Now as I said, this is not an automatic; were everything else to be in order, I could most easily fudge on this one. But I wouldn’t like it.

Next on the required list is demonstrated good judgment and an appropriate temperament to govern. President of the United States is the most important elected position on earth, and should require a person whose judgment is sound, who is cool under pressure, who can keep his wits and composure when dealing with the demands placed upon him/her by virtue if the position. I certainly don’t mean to restrict these expectations to only one elected position; to a lesser but still critical degree, I expect them of candidates for lower offices as well. I believe we ignore such important factors to our genuine peril.

Finally on my list is the most important qualification: character. Evidence of decent character is a requirement on my list. Note: I didn’t say “perfection”; nobody comes even close on that count, so enough with that silly “national preacher” hogwash. But I do insist on a candidate demonstrating at least reasonably good character. People will say to me, “so-and-so’s policies are better than (the other so-and-so’s) policies”, to which I reply, “but if your preferred so-and-so has little integrity, he essentially has no policies”…or at least ones we have any reason to trust he will hold onto/carry through on once in office. A person lacking character, in other words, is a person undeserving of trust…yet when my friends talk about “policies”, they are implying trust, to which I want to answer, “how can I trust a scoundrel to do anything he says he will do?” And this has been proven often to be the case, I might add; people lacking integrity get into office and then fail to do what they promise. It’s difficult enough for people with integrity to accomplish what they say they want to; it’s a different thing altogether when there is little reason to believe a person even means what she says!

Further, particularly when it comes to the highest office in the land, we often mirror, as a people, the one whom we elect; we begin to take on the (lack of) character we see exemplified in the leader. The truth of this will be self-evident for those with eyes to see, so I will leave off commenting in this vein; if you don’t see this, well…look more closely.

Perhaps a way to illustrate–it works for my semi-twisted mind but your results may vary–is to envision a sandwich. Silly, but go with me…”principle” is the bread on both sides of my sandwich, with “pragmatism” in the middle (note: I don’t mean to say that pragmatism is the heart/core/most important piece; I only am saying that there are three parts, with pragmatism, as it were, in the “middle”). I begin with my political beliefs and principles: does this person (at least profess to) believe and promote the things I believe make for good government? Then I move to pragmatism: “can this person actually win” being among those pragmatic concerns. But then there is one more layer, the “bottom slice of bread”, the layer that I believe most Americans don’t apply: it is another layer of principle, demanding those things mentioned above which speak to personal–rather than policy–qualifications.

I said earlier that I would not be persuaded to vote for someone who simply professes to agree with most of the policy positions I espouse, and a key reason is that I am unwilling to lie with my vote. What I mean is this: when I vote for a candidate, I believe that I’m saying, not merely, “she’s better than the alternative” or “he’s the lesser of two evils”, but this: “I believe that this person meets the minimum qualifications to serve in the office for which he is running”. As I see it, how can this not be what a vote is–or very certainly should be–saying? Can a person responsibly and in good conscience vote for someone of whom this cannot be said? I certainly and absolutely cannot, and will not, do that.

Now what does this mean? It means, of course, that if I find on the ballot no candidate for whom I can in good conscience vote, then I feel no compunction to do so, because I would not be being true to my own conscience were I to cast that vote. I shall, in those instances, proceed to either look further down the ballot than the “top two” or, finding no one after my search, often write in the name of a candidate (“non-candidate”, I guess is the better term) whom I can in good conscience recommend.

I mentioned earlier being encouraged about some things I see, and I will amplify here: I have a growing number of friends who think–and vote–this way, who will not merely look at “policies” or “policies plus pragmatism” even, and then vote “lesser of two evils”, regardless of how “evil” that person might be. May our tribe increase.

“But Byron, you are throwing away your vote!” Sure, from one perspective; though my one vote would have no effect anyway, as we said earlier, in (nothing more than) theory, I have lost any influence in the final outcome. This is a choice with which I can live, an infinitesimally-small price to pay for a clear conscience and a face I can honestly shave.

“But why bother voting at all, if you don’t believe your one vote makes any difference, and you don’t vote for a person who has any chance of actually winning?” Great question, for which I have several answers which I find satisfying:

• I honor the sacrifices of those who came before me, both those who designed our wonderful representative democracy, and those who shed blood that this might become and remain a reality, when I partake of this great privilege.
• The system works when we take part in the election process; apathy is not an option.
• By voting I retain the privilege of commenting, because I have put forward by my vote a person I find acceptable to govern. I believe that those who fail to vote lose credibility when they comment upon or complain about those who hold office. Taking part in the process, even if I vote for a “minority candidate”, enables me to say, “I believe that if everyone followed my path, we’d be in better shape.”
• If we keep voting for the “lesser of two evils”, we can expect to get more and more of the same. The truth of this has demonstrated itself increasingly over the course of the past few years. Though I harbor few illusions about the value of my one vote on the thinking of party officials, if my way were to become a trend, then perhaps we will stop getting so many unacceptable candidates.

So that’s it: what I think about when I cast a vote; why I will not tell a lie with that vote; why appeals to “lesser of two evils” thinking will not move me when I truly believe that both options constitute “evil” (in the sense of unfitness for office). I would invite you to join me or, at least, now you can understand me…and why I say I will not be dishonest with my vote.

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