It is Tuesday, November 8, 2016, and you step into the voting booth. On the presidential ballot are some names that you don’t recognize, but you never vote for those parties anyway. Instead two names blare out at you: Donald J. Trump (Republican) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (Democrat). What are you going to do? You’ve spent the last few months hoping a satellite would fall from the sky, that a Benghazi Commission would indict, that the Lord Jesus Christ would return, but alas, no, the dreaded moment of choice has arrived.
What are you going to do?!
Today is Tuesday, May 10, 2016, and it is in all likelihood too late to hope for a positive electoral outcome in November. Nonetheless, it is still possible to promote a positive voting experience, one that is not cynical nor despairing. We can still choose a response which is hopeful. My oldest child, Connor, turned 18 in February. Ever since his AP Gov class in high school, he’s been looking forward to voting in his first presidential election. When he steps into the booth, I don’t want his prevailing thought to be: “Is this the best that American democracy has to offer?” Already the 2014 election, albeit a midterm one, saw the lowest turn-out in history among Connor’s age group.
So what is Connor and his friends, or you and I, going to do? The parties, and the campaigns, demand our obeisance to a fixed choice—Trump or Hillary—but there are other options, and I’m not talking about a Third Party candidate. For one, you could skip voting in 2016 or leave the presidential ballot blank. This might give you a sense of self-satisfaction, that you’ve not sullied your conscience in voting for either Hillary or Trump, that you’ve not voted for a third party that you don’t believe in either. Of course, not voting sends no signal, makes no recognizable protest. In fact, some campaigns purposefully try to suppress voter registration and voter turn-out.
Besides the first option of “giving up,” there is the second option of “giving in.” You look at Trump’s and Clinton’s name on the ballot and you can decide to vote for the “lesser of two evils.” This is apparently what some former Trump opponents like Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, or Bobby Jindal are doing. What they said about Trump during the primaries—e.g., “egomaniacal madman” according to Jindal--cannot be dismissed as simply the “heat of the campaign,” but the prospect of voting for Hilary Clinton is apparently too agonizing for them to bear. Contrast this though with noted Republican commentator P.J. O’Rourke. On Saturday’s broadcast of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR, he said, “I am endorsing Hillary, and all her lies and all her empty promises. . . . It's the second-worst thing that can happen to this country, but she's way behind in second place.”
Sometimes, choosing between the lesser of two evils is wise and pragmatic. It is not evil to vote for the lesser of two evils, but it surely feels evil to have to. Don’t worry that by not voting for your lesser of two evils, that you are helping to throw the election to the greater. There are just as many Democrats disaffected with Hillary as there are Republicans disaffected with Trump. The worst thing though is that lesser-of-two-evil voters will have to go through the rest of their lives knowing, “I voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016” or “I voted for Donald Trump.” I fear that many people are going to violate their consciences this November.
There is a third option, and it is one that our own democracy provides. It is not giving up nor giving in, but rather giving to . . . giving to the future, giving to our stockpile of hope, giving to the next generation of voters. We call it “Bust the Ballot,” and it is based on three simple ideas and three simple actions.
Idea #1: It is good to vote.
To vote is to participate in the republic, to affirm the constituting of our democracy.
Idea #2: You are NOT bound to vote for whom the Democrats and the Republicans tell you.
You are free. The “Two-Party System” may have been around since the time of Adams and Hamilton, and it may have been entrenched as Democrats vs. Republicans since the time of Reconstruction, but the so-called Two Party System is NOT established in the Constitution.
Idea #3: It is an evil to have to vote for the lesser of two evils.
Pretty much every nation that has more than two competitive parties have greater voter turn-out at elections. Therefore, it is time to declare that the US now has three parties: Republicans, Democrats, and. . . YOU!
These three ideas lead to three simple actions:
Action #1: Register to vote.
You may wish to register as “unaffiliated,” as another way to send a signal to the parties that have failed us, but that is up to you, and of course can always be changed later.
Action #2: When you vote for president, WRITE IN the name of a candidate of your choice—but with this twist: write in whom you want to see run and win in 2020.
In other words, you will need to grieve the unfortunate electoral outcome of 2016. You will also need to recognize that a write-in campaign for 2016 would not likely succeed. But what if you used the 2016 presidential ballot to vote for your 2020 hopeful? Whom do you admire? Whom would you be proud to vote for? Whom do you wish would run (or run again) in 2020?
Action #3: Recruit ten other people to participate in “Bust the Ballot.”
Promote it, as well, on social media.
If enough voters participate in “Bust the Ballot,” writing in a candidate for 2020 can accomplish two marvelous things:
a) it will register as a protest to the two parties—not only for the next presidential nominating season, but also hopefully for the next Congressional session. If Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi want to act obstructionist, we should not let them think they can hide behind misguided party loyalties. “A pox on both their houses,” we say, and we are not referring to the two chambers of Congress.
b) it could send a signal to your 2020 candidate. He or she might read the write-in results whenever they are released and form an exploratory committee.
If only a few voters follow through on Bust the Ballot, an enduring victory can still be won. In the words of Wendell Berry: “Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirt that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”
Stay tuned for a social media launch of Bust the Ballot by Connor Bliss.