How to Vote During the Worst Presidential Election Ever


Let me lay out all my cards on the table: I’m a moderate, small government, pro-life voter, and I find a Trump presidency scarier than I do a Clinton presidency.

I know, I know — the SCOTUS nominations. The email scandal. Benghazi. The pro-choice platform. Hillary Clinton herself. But at the end of the day, after hearing everybody’s reasons for why Clinton’s scary, evil, and destined to wreck our country, I am unpersuaded that she, a crooked politician, is worse than an ignorant, bigoted, sexist bully who resorts to Twitter and insults. What is this, middle school?

This election blows my mind. Fifty-four percent of voters dislike Clinton. Fifty-eight percent dislike Trump. The Republican party doesn’t like Trump. Many Democrats don’t like Clinton. How is it possible, with all the disgust and horror thrown at these two candidates, we nominated them as the major candidates for president? This is not a rhetorical question: where are these people who voted for Trump and Clinton, and why didn’t the 54% and 58% stop them? 

This is all a great mystery. In my mind, you can’t go wrong and you can’t go right in this election, however you vote. You know that ethical dilemma where you’re at the helm of a train hurtling down a track, and you can chose to either hit the one person or sacrifice all the people in the train?

That’s this election. Morally impossible.

All that to say, I started a constructive dialogue on my personal Facebook page about voting in general and for whom to vote, specifically. Though all my friends fall into different categories (bite the bullet and vote for Trump, vote Johnson and shake up the system, vote Clinton because Trump’s worse, vote the third party of your conscience), the conversation essentially boiled down to this:

Is voting ultimately a representation of your personal convictions, or is voting ultimately a pragmatic move? 

With such truly awful candidates, many Christians argue that it’s unconscionable to vote for any of them. Matthew J. Franck makes a powerful case for just that: “It is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B.”

Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.

This sounds tempting to me, and I leant toward it for a while. It’s far easier to vote for a third party candidate who won’t win than to step into the larger two-party mess. I couldn’t confidently say I voted for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, couldn’t proudly say I voted for an increasingly pro-abortion platform or a self-destructive, anti-everybody reality star.

Then one of my former professors challenged me on that view: that’s a romantic idea, but is that the purpose of voting?

Is it? Is the purpose to express myself and my views? Or is the purpose to make the best decision possible in this worst case scenario? Is personally expressing myself in this election, of all elections, throwing up my hands at the helm of the train and doing nothing?

Or is the purpose of voting pragmatic — sticking with the reality of the two-party system and playing the political game to protect those with the most to lose? Is expressing myself via my vote constructive and democratic? Is it benefiting those around me, my fellow citizens, especially those more effected by whoever rises to power?

That is the dilemma for many of us. We need to figure out what exactly our vote means before we figure out which of the evils we vote into the office. That’s given me some clarity in this election. (Some.)

Personally, I’m leaning toward pragmatic voting, which means I need to figure out the worst that can happen and then the “best way” to prevent it from happening. I’m convinced Trump is the worst thing that could happen to this country. Of course, he could be gridlocked by a Congress and Senate who despise him. If I that seemed likely, I would vote for him — but I’m not granted that assurance, not with his penchant for lashing out at people he dislikes and cozying up to our enemies.

That leaves me with two options: voting for Clinton, which makes me die inside, and voting for Johnson, in hopes that the Libertarian party collapses the two-party system.

But that’s just me. I am not certain voting pragmatically is the right way to go, much less the specific vote I cast. But the train’s hurtling toward a lot of people, and we’ve got to make a decision — pragmatism or personal expression?

10 thoughts on “How to Vote During the Worst Presidential Election Ever

  1. Kristin H.

    It blows my mind, too. I remember laughing and rolling my eyes, back when election talk was first starting, at the thought of Trump and Clinton being our two options. That could never happen…surely we aren’t that stupid? Boy, was I wrong. I’m going to vote, but I honestly can’t bring myself to vote for either of them.


  2. Adele

    My thoughts have always been, vote your conscience in the primaries/caucuses and vote pragmatically in the general election. Before this election I have been mostly lucky enough that voting pragmatically in the general election was not that far removed from voting my conscience, if at all. Sometimes there was a third party candidate that I slightly preferred over both major party candidates, but I never had any problem saying I support the candidate I voted for after choosing one of the two front-runners. This election is different because I can’t really say that – I don’t like Hillary. Nevertheless, I will vote for her without the slightest hesitation or qualms because Trump is, well, either a joke or terrifying depending on my mood. When I vote I’m not making a statement – I’m not the engineer of the train in your moral dilemma. I’m the mother sitting in the rear car evaluating my options and looking at the actions available to me and picking the ones I believe will be most likely to help my child survive regardless of what the engineer chooses.

    Oh, and your non-rhetorical question? I have no idea how Trump ended up the Republican nominee, but Hillary is the Democratic nominee because the Democratic party is a political machine and popular opinion has marginal impact at best in selecting the Democratic candidate. The first half of this comic book (I know – ??? right?) actually does a decent job of explaining what has happened and is happening in the Democratic party:


    • Bailey Steger

      Yes, I agree with your voting strategy! And I think that being a parent, or being in any role that puts you in charge of the innocents’ welfare, gives you a greater perspective on all this political craziness.


  3. Karen

    Its so interesting to hear peoples takes on this election. The view that voting should be pragmatic is one i havent heard much, im not sure i completely agree but i can see the wisdom and it is certainly good to remember while voting that you are picking a best candidate for the job, and that person wont allways be an exact extension of you and your values.

    To mix up the pot a bit, here is a great article i read recently on a mathematical analysis on voting third party.

    And, third party aside, id really recommend this article about voting pro life. Taking a holistic view on being pro life is really important, in my opinion. And if you end up voting for hillary, it may help you see voting pro life from a different angle as far as conscience is concerned.

    Just a little more food for thought. Interesting times we are in.


    • Bailey Steger

      That mathematical analysis was fascinating and helpful! I’m familiar with Held’s article on Clinton, as well as other pro-lifers arguing for a Clinton presidency. Someone pointed out to me that the DNC’s stance on abortion changed from being merely pro-choice (“safe, rare, and legal”) to being openly pro-abortion, which is disturbing, but I do take into consideration that government programs, as much as I find them ultimately ineffective/unsustainable, might indeed be reducing abortions better than conservatives’ long attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade.

      Interesting times indeed. Thanks for your thoughts!


  4. heather

    I’m in Ohio where every vote is important. To me stopping Trump is everything and every vote not given to Clinton is a vote wasted. Practicality all the way.


  5. korie

    I’ve never voted in the presidential election, and that’s because I really dislike the structure of the voting system. I live in Illinois. Obama was clearly going to win for the state of Illinois for the past two elections. This is dramatic, but I was insulted by the notion that my vote counts. Hearing that felt patronizing. It didn’t matter.

    I’m really hoping that this particular election causes changes to be made in our political system. I wish I had the answer. But when somebody with changes in mind up with the ability to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again, I want to take that seriously.


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