Like many voters in this election cycle, I have been reticent to engage in conversation. I will vote. I don’t like the two major presidential choices and have not wanted to talk openly about it. But, I have kept on reading, thinking, talking occassionally, and working toward a choice. In this process, I’ve heard over and over and over that it is possible for me to “waste my vote”. That phrase has always struck me as false. But, I had never chosen to slow down and think about why it hits me that way. I decided to contemplate the value of voting and how that value could be wasted. I decided to do it now because I vote tomorrow.
Even as I think that it might be wiser to keep my thought to myself, here is the first stab at an imagined monologue on a park bench, a monologue that could never really happen.
Hold it. Did you just say that I can waste my vote?
There is, in that statement, an assumption that my vote has some sort of value.
I agree with your assumption.
My vote does have value.
With my vote, I proclaim that I care about governance and celebrate a system where I, a peon, have been empowered to participate in the empowerment of the powers that be.
With my vote, I can participate in the selection of the people who participate in making the rules and the person empowered to put those rules into action.
With my vote, I can participate in the creation of something good.
With my vote, I can participate in the cessation of something bad.
With my vote, I can promote the Ideal.
With my vote, I can subvert Evil.
With my vote, I express my heart, my mind, my conscience in secret.
Before I vote, and after I vote, I can reveal that heart if I so choose, but I can also choose to conceal.
I could, if so inclined, reveal other than my heart and conscience in the light of day and allow my hypocrisy to be known only to the ballot box and to my God who sees all.
In our system, the value does not come from what I say I will do, nor what I say I have done. It comes from what I do in the booth with the ballot.
Another thing is true: the value of my vote does not come from prevailing. It does not come from voting for the winner.
To claim that it comes from prevailing is to claim that in most contemporary presidential elections the majority of the people in the country have wasted their votes.
That is not true.
The value of the vote does not come from prevailing, from winning.
The value of the vote comes from participating, from expressing the heart in secret, from learning to accept being governed by those who represent a plurality, and from vowing to take come what may.
I waste my vote if I choose not to cast it.
I waste my vote if I opt out of the system established for our good.
I waste my vote if I place on the ballot anything other than what my heart and mind combined with conscience cry out is right.
I use my vote well if I express clearly and truthfully where I believe, given the current circumstances and choices, we should go and who should lead us there.
There are hard choices to make and many factors to weigh.
And you have every right, if I choose to engage in conversation, to persuade me that a vote cast one way is a better fit for me.
And you have every right, even if I choose not to engage in the conversation, to use your powers of persuasion in the marketplace to proclaim the way that seems best to you.
But, please, in exercising this power of persuasion do not tell me that expressing my heart, my mind, my conscience on the ballot is a waste.
For if you tell me that, you are telling me that voting is a sham—that the only valuable expression of my heart, my mind, and my conscience must be constrained to a smaller set of choices than those proclaimed by the central instrument of our democracy, the ballot box.
If this ballot box, a crucial symbol of our democracy, is a sham, a liar, a purveyor of options without meaning, can there really be any value to waste?
I don’t think so. There would be no value.
But, the ballot box is not a sham, a liar, or a purveyor of options without meaning.
When I step into the booth, when I mark the ballot, when I express my heart, my mind, my conscience, when I clearly and truthfully indicate where I believe, given the current circumstances and choices, we should go and who should lead us there, then my vote is filled with value.
Please, as you formulate your persuasion, refrain from undermining the very system that allows us the opportunity to participate. Refrain from calling the ballot a liar.
Instead, proclaim that the value of the vote comes from expressing—with all the rest of the country—our best judgement of where we should go and who should lead us there. And then, having proclaimed that value, if you must, persuade me that your choice is the best one.
Now, what were you saying about …