Wednesday, February 08, 2012

how do we vote with integrity?

We just finished a special election here in Oregon to replace a congressperson with less-than-stellar integrity (although he wasn't a bad politician, really). I heard a sort of debate between the two main-party candidates on NPR before the election, and I came to the conclusion that neither of them was really a candidate that represented me, although one was worse than the other. When I looked in the voting pamphlet to see if there were any good third-party candidates, there weren't. (There were other candidates but they weren't good options.)

Since it's an election year, this problem is bound to come up again, and it's something I think about a lot. What do we do, as Friends, when either a) there aren't any good candidates, or b) the good candidates have no chance of winning, and if we vote for them, the worse candidates are likely to get elected instead of the not-quite-as-bad?

In this case, I voted for the not-quite-as-bad. I'm not excited about that candidate's qualities, but I would much rather have that person win than the other one. Is this giving in to evil in some way, or is this just being human? There's never going to be a perfect candidate, right? (Unless I run for office, of course--in which case I would agree with all of my own policies and therefore I would be perfect...I've thought about running for president in 2016 because it's the first election year I'll be old enough to be president, so if you need a write-in option, remember, Cherice 2016!)

So, I'm kind of resigned to the fact that there's never really going to be a perfect option, because anyone who actually makes it anywhere in politics is too rich and has probably compromised their integrity too many times to be trustworthy. This is rather cynical, I'll admit--but I don't think that makes it untrue, unfortunately. But if there's a candidate that's half-way decent, like Dennis Kucinich, although I'm sure he's not perfect, should we vote for him, as Friends, since he's anti-war, even though we know he'll never win? Do we vote symbolically, hoping our votes will make a difference someday? Or does that just make the current situation worse, because then the absolutely worst candidates end up winning because a vote for the "good" guys is split up?

How do others of you vote with integrity?


Mackenzie said...

I'm a Green Party member, so take a guess!

Bill Samuel said...

It is very difficult. Generally I oppose the idea of voting for the lesser evil. If a candidate's positions are, on balance, evil, I can't justify voting for them. That is not a demand for perfection, but it is saying that it isn't enough to compare candidates considered to have a chance to win. If, on balance, I think a candidate's positions are more good than bad - on something of an absolute basis, not relative to the current political atmosphere - I can justify voting for them. When I look at the fact that most duopoly party candidates believe in war, for example, I rarely feel I can in good conscience vote for one of them.

I usually vote for third party candidates or independents. I sometimes write in when there's no one on the ballot who I find, on balance, to be good.

If you write in, you do not necessarily need a real name. You can vote a slogan, like Peace Now. With a few exceptions, it is just treated as a protest vote anyway.

Where not allowed to write in, I simply will not vote if there is not a candidate on the ballot who I feel I can in good conscience vote for. However, I hate to not vote because that can easily be interpreted as apathy.

[Unrelated Note: This is a really weird blog as far as comments go. Generally blogs accept IDs based on email addresses or user IDs while this one does it on URLs. This makes it much harder on the user.]

Mike McGeehon said...

This was actually the first election since I turned 18 that I didn't vote in. I didn't feel like I had given enough time to learn about the candidates, and weigh the pros and cons.

How do I vote with integrity? I ask myself "who is going to do the least amount of harm as a candidate?" It's hard to find a 'good' candidate sometimes, but one that will do the least harm is usually much easier.

Mike McGeehon said...

This was actually the first election since I turned 18 that I didn't vote in. I didn't feel like I had given enough time to learn about the candidates, and weigh the pros and cons.

How do I vote with integrity? I ask myself "who is going to do the least amount of harm as a candidate?" It's hard to find a 'good' candidate sometimes, but one that will do the least harm is usually much easier.

cherice said...

MacKenzie, that's great, but even the Green Party sometimes doesn't have very good candidates, in my experience.

Bill, good comments. I think I have a tendency to fall into the trap that the 2-party system wants us to fall into, which is, "A vote for a third party is a vote for the greater evil!" since it will divide the support for the "lesser evil" candidate. Maybe we should create a Quaker Party!

Also, thanks for the comment about the logistics of writing a comment. For me, it signs me in with my Google account, but I'll look into trying to make that more user-friendly.

Stephen said...

It's hard for me to vote with integrity at all (and I haven't in years) because to me, the whole political system is pretty evil. I understand that *somebody* needs to be president in the current system, and it's true that I prefer the lesser of the evils. But I myself just can't imagine partaking in the circus.

And Bill, I know what you mean about being seen as apathetic, and I have often been criticized for not voting. But when I explain *why* I don't vote people always understand and often even agree to some extent. I used to be very secretive and almost ashamed of my not voting. But now I don't care. It often opens up a needed dialogue.

John Fitzgerald said...

Made me think of Plato: 'the penalty for not being involved in politics is being governed by people worse than you'. The first time I voted was In Northern Ireland, just after the new assembly was formed. It was the first time people could vote using transferable preferences. I really liked being able to rank candidates in order, rather than singling out just one!

I also remember a Mayoral election in London, where neither candidate appealed to me very much. Nevertheless, I voted for the 'least worst option' in an attempt to help keep out what I saw as the worst option.

So I think my conscience pushes me to use a vote of some kind. I think indifference and apathy are bigger worries than the inevitable compromises you see when people seek office. I also try to get a really clear understanding of candidate's platforms and voting records, which is much easier now than it used to be.

But I know all this doesn't make for saintly politicians!

Mike Huber said...

There are two ways to get anything done politically. The first is to compromise. The second is to coerce. "Purists" will always choose coercion, because their pure devotion to an ideal leaves them no room for compromise.

Sadly, "compromise" has become a shameful label in politics. On immigration, taxation, environment, etc, we expect our political leaders to defend various "lines in the sand." This formula leads to coercive politics, where any victory by one side is seen as failure of the other.

If political candidates do not perfectly align with your views, why not ask them about it? Maybe they have a carefully considered position that will strike you as reasonable and good-hearted, even if you come to a different conclusion.

We need to stop equating politics with a Litmus Test of Enduring Truth. We need to start electing people who can listen with compassion and compromise with integrity. Then they can represent us in a conversation instead of a shouting match.

Paul B said...

Cherice and Friends,
There is a way to vote for exactly the candidate you think is best, without your vote being "wasted" if that candidate is not in one of the two major parties. Its called "Instant-Runoff-Voting" and is in place already for the citizens of Minneapolis, Oakland (Cal), and Portland (Maine); and nationwide in such countries as Ireland and India (for President), and Australia (for their national House of Representatives). It even is used here in the US by the Republican Party of Utah in their own internal elections [ ].
. Here's a brief description of how it works [thanks to ]: In Instant-Runoff- Voting, voters simply rank all candidates in order of preference. Then if a candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, s/he wins. If no candidate receives over 50% of first-choice votes, the candidate having the fewest first-choices is eliminated from the counting, and the second-choice candidate on each of that person's ballots then is counted. As soon as these rounds of counting yield greater than 50% support for one candidate, that person is recognized as the winner. [By contrast, most Congresspersons are elected today with much less than 50% of the voting-age population's support --].
Thus, Instant-Runoff-Voting allows voters to express their true preferences, rather than our having to vote "for the lesser of two evils". And IRV also means that voting for a third-party candidate does not become a "wasted vote", nor does it produce a "spoiler" effect. The unhealthy dilemma of having to vote for the "realistic" contender rather than voting one's conscience can thus be eliminated . IRV also encourages cleaner campaigns, because all candidates have an incentive to avoid mud-slinging since they are competing also for second-choice votes.
IRV can work at any level of government (towns, states, and Federal). And states can individually decide to use it for their citizens' votes in Federal elections.
For more details, see and .

So Friends can now propose this type of system to their local towns and states. Then once Americans get used to seeing its advantages locally, we'd be well on our way to making it available in our Congressional and Presidential elections.
Paul B. []

Swallowtail said...

Cherice, I think it's been years since I last looked at your blog. It's great to see that you're still providing a forum for excellent discussion!

Regarding lesser evils... I realized long ago that we have to be resigned to a two-party system in national elections until the opportunity presents itself for us to change the system (yes, instant runoff voting is an EXCELLENT system). Also, politics is all about compromise and diplomacy (I agree with Mike Huber's comments)... we can't abandon the better of two candidates simply because they do not conform to all of our ideals. Therefore it makes the most sense to vote for the best candidate who has a chance of winning, unless both candidates are hopelessly corrupt. (Certainly Barack Obama is far from perfect, but I do not consider him hopelessly corrupt... he has done much good.)

Best wishes,