My fellow US voters, election day is nearly upon us, and we need to have a brief and serious conversation. Setting aside endorsements and party politics and a host of other things, we are making a crucial decision in this presidential election that will shape the future of this country — that may in fact determine whether this country has a future at all. No matter your ideals or political position, I think you can agree that one of two people is going to be the next president, regardless as to the rest of the names on your ballot, so we need to have a chat about protest votes.
Before we do, though, I’d like you to read Clay Shirky’s ‘There’s No Such Thing As A Protest Vote.’ I’ll chill here while you read it — truly, take your time. It’s a quick read. If you really don’t want to head over, you’re missing out, but here’s the money quote:
Throwing away your vote on a message no one will hear, and which will change no outcome, is sometimes presented as ‘voting your conscience’, but that’s got it exactly backwards; your conscience is what keeps you from doing things that feel good to you but hurt other people. Citizens who vote for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, or nobody aren’t voting their conscience, they are voting their ego, unable to accept that a system they find personally disheartening actually applies to them.
Shirky articulates the reality of the so-called ‘protest vote,’ a supposedly bold and brave gesture of sticking it to the man that is actually fundamentally rooted in selfishness and vanity. But I’d like to make a more personal appeal to you today when it comes to conversations about protest votes, because I am one of the people who will be directly affected by the outcome of this presidential election, and I am one of the people you are going to hurt if you decide that a grand token of defiance is more important than the interests of a country, so I want you to settle down and listen to me for a moment.
Here’s the thing: This political system is pretty broken. I think we can all agree on that. I hope we can all agree on that. There’s a lot wrong with politics in this country and the lack of a true third party is definitely one of the things that is wrong. However, at times like these, we need to think like utilitarians, not like bold political reformers. What matters right now isn’t what’s wrong, or what could be our future, but what is very immediately and actually our future.
The greatest act of conscience is to do something that offers the greatest good for the greatest numbers of people, even if it’s personally distasteful. If you loathe both of the major party candidates, don’t think of this election as a train diverging into three tracks. It’s a train diverging into two tracks, and you’re being set up for the infamous trolley problem. If four babies are crawling on the track to the right and 100 gays are having a dance party on the track to the left and you have to pick one group to be run down by the train, which group are you going to pick?
There’s no third track. You can’t stop the train. You have to choose.
I hope you know which choice is the right one.
I’m not peeping over your shoulder at your ballot and I don’t want to know who you vote for — that’s not my business, and I honestly don’t want to know, especially if you’re someone I thought I respected who’s choosing to throw your vote away in some misbegotten act of pride and ego. When you throw your vote away, you’re telling me that you are more important than millions of people in the United States, and that your personal desire to be right, to go down fighting, matters more than the lives of the people who also call this country home, or who want to call this country home. And I am a pretty bitter and uncompromising person, so I hope you realise how serious I am when I say that this is not the time for that: This is the time for compromise to ensure that the people around you are safe, even if you personally aren’t likely to be affected by the outcome of your vote.
Electing the Republican candidate will kill people. I’m not being hyperbolic. Underrepresented groups in the United States are going to directly suffer from the policies he will attempt to ram through. That includes a giant intersecting Venn diagram of women, people of colour, disabled people, immigrants, transgender people, LGBQ people, Muslims, low-income people, and many, many more. The cuts to government services he wants to force through will kill people. The rejection of immigrants and refugees will kill people. Maybe you think his threats of deportation are idle, but even if he’s not deporting Muslims en masse, he’s still going to be deporting people to their deaths, whether it’s LGBQT activists or Syrian refugees. The wars he’s likely to start will kill people. The economic policies he wants to push will not just isolate us and devastate our economy: They will kill people.
This is an election with deadly stakes, and maybe you think your vote doesn’t matter, or it doesn’t count, or someone else will do the real voting for you, but that’s not how it works. You personally, when you put pen to ballot or finger to screen, you personally are doing the voting. For you, but also for this country. If you have the ability and power to vote in the United States, you need to take that responsibility seriously. You can be responsible for a rain of devastation and horror, or you can make the right choice, even if it’s not a choice you like.
Babies or gays. You decide. Because it’s your hand on the switch on Tuesday. Not mine. Not anyone else’s. Yours.
Image: Vote, John Schneider, Flickr