Voting Your Conscience

November 4th, 2008

What does it mean to vote your conscience?  What is the meaning of a vote?

I have two conservative, pro-life friends who can’t stand Obama, but also do not want to vote for McCain.  Instead, one says that he is going to leave the ballot blank.  I’m not sure what the other is going to do–she may be voting third-party.  But in both cases, they do not want to vote for McCain because they do not believe he is authentically conservative–especially on pro-life issues.  Their conscience won’t allow them to vote for him.

So that makes me wonder… How do you view your vote?

I think my friends are probably thinking about it this way:

“I don’t want to vote for the lesser of two evils.  I want to vote on principle!  Am I going to vote on principle, or am I going to vote pragmatically?”

If you think about it that way, you’ll probably vote “on principle”.  You won’t be willing to vote for the lesser of two evils.

But what if you think about it this way?

“I really don’t want candidate X’s policies to go through.  Am I going to vote to affect what happens, or am I just going to vote to make a statement?”

If you think that way, you’ll probably vote for the lesser of two evils.

So, how should you think about your vote?  How will your conscience reason?

  • A principled vote vs. a pragmatic vote?
  • A vote to make a statement or a vote to affect what happens?

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13 Responses to “Voting Your Conscience”

  1. Tim says:

    On second thought, I would add a question:

    Does voting for a candidate mean, “I support his policies”? Or does it mean, “I prefer his candidacy over the other”?

  2. Katie says:

    A great statement on this very topic can be found at Download Derek Webb’s Election Day Edition of his album Mockingbird – it’s free if you agree to tell a few friends about it. Then check out the last recording. It’s a five-minute talk about voting your conscience. In this case, it sounds like he decided not to vote because his conscience wouldn’t allow him to vote for either candidate.

  3. Tim says:

    Thanks, Katie. I’ll check it out.

    Here’s another link, given to me by a friend:
    Is it Immoral to Vote for McCain/Palin? — a debate

    Edited to add: Whoops, that link is the discussion thread–not the tag-team debate. Here’s the debate.

  4. Katie says:

    Just realized it’s online to read, if you’d rather do that than download and listen – here’s the link:

  5. Tim says:

    Hmm… I don’t at all agree with his statement, “By voting, especially when based on just one or two issues, you’re giving your ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ to that party’s entire platform”.

    I would say that at a minimum, your vote says “I prefer this person to be in office over & against what would happen if I didn’t vote.” If Derek Webb thinks that a vote says more than that… Well, he at least needs to argue the point.

  6. Louise says:

    Leaving it blank to “make a statement” is the same as voting for Obama. We may not agree with McCain completely – – – have we ever agreed completely with any president – – – – but do we want a president who thinks partial-birth abortion and ALL abortion is okay; do we want a president who thinks same sex marriage is okay – – – – – and the list goes on – – – – – – Do you find in the Bible any place that says Obama’s views on the above is okay?

  7. Katie says:

    Tim, I don’t agree with that statement either. (Just wanted you to know I don’t necessarily agree with everything he said – but I do like a lot of it.) I think that is how HE must feel about it.

  8. Sarah says:

    If it is immoral to vote for McCain because he is not against 100% of abortions, then it is immoral to vote for a partial-birth abortion ban, because it does not ban 100% of abortions.

    If you do not vote because you think it would be immoral to vote for McCain, you are still responsible for the outcome of the election, because you are affecting it. No matter what you do, vote for Obama, McCain, a 3rd party, or nobody at all, you are playing a part.

    I was told that I shouldn’t vote for McCain because “God never tells us to compromise,” “we can’t know the full effects of voting for an evil person (like McCain),” and “God wants us to do what is right, even when the world is not.”

    The thing is, the Bible does not tell us that to vote for someone who is less than ideal is wrong. This was not a situation that occurred for people in that time. There are no Biblical standards in this situation, only convictions (there are standards on the issues themselves, but not on how we vote when there is not a good option). We have to take the principles laid out in the Bible and try to apply them to the practice of voting for our leaders.

    My view is that we are in a situation where there is no good option. To modify an old analogy, there is a train full of people headed for a bridge that is raised. There are a few people caught in the mechanism that lowers the bridge. You are at the controls. It is not wrong to make a decision based on your options. By stepping back from the controls (not voting), you are still affecting what happens.

    Now let’s say there’s someone behind you that will take up the controls if you step back. That’s great. You can watch what happens, feel terrible about it, but know that, hey, at least you weren’t the one responsible for killing someone. You did what was right, and can wash your hands of the situation.

    As far as voting for a 3rd party, I see that as stepping back from the controls, but telling everyone that the lowering mechanism should be designed so that nobody can get caught in it. You’re correct, but it is only helpful for the future. It does not affect what is happening now. The exception to this is if you vote for a 3rd-party in a state that is solidly for McCain. That is not a case of making a statement at the price of helping Obama to power. I would be likely to vote for a 3rd party myself, in that situation.

    The difference between this analogy and our election is that we don’t actually have a choice between the many and the few. The people caught in the mechanism (those children that are currently being legally aborted) are going to die either way.

  9. Sarah says:

    To be clear, I don’t believe that someone who abstains from voting or votes for a 3rd party is being immoral or insincere in wanting to do the right thing (I think my “wash your hands of the situation” comment came off that way). I do believe they are fooling themselves if they think that by not voting for either, they are not responsible for who wins. But like I said, how you vote in a situation where there is no good option is a matter of personal conviction, not Biblical standards. I do not fault someone for following those convictions.

    I do, however, object when they apply their convictions to me (again, convictions, not Biblical standards).

  10. Tim says:


    I pretty much agree with your perspective. Just a couple comments:

    1.) The people in the debate who were saying “It’s immoral to vote for McCain” actually don’t like the partial-birth abortion laws–because it’s a lot of effort to get a law passed which doesn’t actually save any children from being killed. It just bans a procedure. (Even if the debate does end up raising people’s awareness about what abortion actually is.) So, they might actually be willing to say that it’s immoral to vote for an anti-abortion law that doesn’t ban all abortions.

    But that would be pretty weird.

    2.) Some of them, at least, do think that they’re applying Biblical standards, not just convictions. So it makes sense for them to apply those standards.

    I think they’re mistaken, but I wouldn’t object to their attempt to argue that we’re wrong to vote for McCain.

  11. Tim says:

    Whoops, I should clarify:

    I actually voted for Chuck Baldwin. But I live in Texas, which wasn’t a swing state. If it had been up in the air… I might have voted for McCain. More likely than not.

  12. Sarah says:

    1.)Yeah, the partial-birth abortion ban probably wasn’t the best example, I should have said one that bans late term abortions or something along those lines.

    2.) I agree that if they think they’re applying standards, it makes sense for them to try to apply them to us. But they have to show me the proof from the Bible, instead of just giving me general statements. And so far, I haven’t been shown anything from the Bible that applies to the vote, only to abortion.

    I also don’t object to their attempt to argue their point, again, I just wish they would argue the actual point, instead of just saying “abortion is always wrong, therefore a vote for John McCain is a vote to support evil.”

  13. Tim says:

    2.) Right. In that online debate, the “it’s not immoral” people pressed the question, “What is the nature of a vote?” (I’m not done reading it, so I’m not sure if the other side ever responded very well.)

    The “it’s immoral people” seem to be assuming that a vote is “support for the actions of the candidate”–equivalent to choosing who you want to hire for a job.

    I don’t buy that, because I know that either McCain or Obama is going to be elected–regardless of anything I do. My vote doesn’t mean, “I want this person to be president,” or “I support this person’s policies”. My vote means, “I prefer the results of this vote to the results of voting another way.”

    And if Obama were running against someone was going to start a global nuclear war, or exterminate all racial minorities in the country, then I would absolutely use my vote to affect who gets in.