Ah, yes. It’s the first Tuesday after November 1. There’s a cool chill in the air in the northern states. Red, white and blue signs litter the sides of streets while flags are out in flocks. Thousands of adults soon will be uncharacteristically wearing little stickers on their shirts.
It must be Election Day in America.
By now you have been inundated with political ads airing in television and radio commercials, plastered on the websites you visit, or sprinkled throughout your social media feeds. You have been feverishly warned that every candidate sports a pitchfork, horns and tail and wants to harm you and your children. And you’ve been convinced that today’s election “is the most important of our lives.”
At this point, I don’t know whether more Americans are excited to vote or anxious to get it over with.
Emotions get put through the wringer every two years in the run-up to Election Day. Voters are bounced around like pinballs between vicious attack ads and lofty, untenable campaign promises. However, while voting is slightly more important than picking out a pair of socks in the morning, it doesn’t quite carry the same gravitas as choosing between death by lethal injection or the electric chair.
With tensions running at an all-time high, I feel it imperative to lay out a few Election Day rules. Before you get out and head to the polls, the following is a voter guide on how to vote today.
Rule 1: Vote for a cause, not just because.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
A seemingly proud American — a morning person, no less, probably halfway into his third cup of coffee — leans over his cubicle wall. “Did you go out and vote yet?” he asks the grumpy curmudgeon staring at his computer screen on the other side.
“No, and I don’t intend to,” the bellyacher grumbles.
“But you have to!” cries the perky pontificator. “It’s…” — everybody all together now — “…your civic duty!”
I don’t ever advocate violence, but people like that are just asking for a punch in the nose.
First of all, don’t ever vote out of a perceived duty or obligation, because you neither have the duty nor the obligation to do so.
Don’t let someone lay a guilt trip on you, either.
“Many have fought and died to give you that right! You owe it to them!”
No. You really don’t. Freedom is a swinging saloon door. You have as much freedom not to vote as you do to vote.
Once you realize you don’t have to vote, it’s time to seek a cause for which you can.
What’s important to you? What do you value above all else? What’s worth fighting for? What freedom and rights that you hold near and dear to your heart do you want a politician to protect?
It shouldn’t take you long to think of a cause, and you’ll have exercised your civic right without feeling pressured to do so.
Rule 2: Vote with a purpose, not with a protest.
What’s worse than not voting at all is throwing your vote away in a vain, futile protest.
If you took time out of your invariably busy schedule, walked or drove to your polling station, and possibly waited in a line around the block to cast a ballot, don’t waste your vote after all that effort.
If you want to vote for a third-party candidate who has no chance at winning the election, do it because you like that candidate, not because you dislike the others.
If you want to write somebody in, pencil in a living, breathing human being. Not a famous dead guy. Not a character in a book or a movie. Not your mangy feline, Mr. Whiskers.
And please don’t write in “Anybody Else.” (Nervously tugs at collar)
Don’t scrawl profanities or epithets all over your ballot. Don’t doodle on it or fill in the circles next to every candidate on the paper ballot. Don’t flip a coin, pick a number, or blindly choose candidates at random.
This is stupid, pointless, and a mockery of the system. If you’re going to bother to vote at all, don’t protest. Do it right or don’t do it all, lest you do yourself or the country an injustice.
Rule 3: Vote with your brain, not with your heart.
Once you have freely chosen to vote for a specific cause, and not out of spite or in protest, make sure you’ve used the correct bodily organ in making your decision.
There’s nothing wrong with having a big heart. On the contrary, it’s an admirable quality.
But any big decision in life must be made with wisdom. It must be well thought out and decided with rational thought.
The Bible says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
What lies in somebody’s heart can stir them to move, but it’s their wisdom that must guide them along the way.
Similarly, we cannot vote based on our emotions. Our emotions are raw and fleeting, like a feather floating in the wind (forgive the Forrest Gump metaphor). What we think is a big deal now might be trivial in the morning.
The Bible has many warnings about acting out of emotion.
- “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry (Ephesians 4:26)
- A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. (Proverbs 15:18)
- Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end. (Proverbs 29:11)
- Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25:28)
- Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
In other words, when we do things based on emotion — including voting — we often make poor decisions. In all decisions, make sure that you use your noggin — “that’s that lump that’s three feet above your ass.”
Rule 4: Vote for the policies, not the politicians.
Lastly, if there is one thing I hate more than guilt-induced voting, protest voting, and emotion-driven voting, it’s “identity voting.”
Politicians are fallible human beings. The idea that we seem to worship them is contemptible to me, someone who worships no one and nothing else but God.
In President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961, he famously said: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” That is sage advice that would still behoove Americans to follow to this day.
Now, let me put a spin on that quote when it comes to voting for politicians: Ask not what you can do to get a politician elected — ask what that politician will do for you when elected.
A politician is there to serve you and the rest of his or her constituents. Meaning: they get elected to adhere to — and to do the bidding of — the voters who elected them.
But when voters idolatrize politicians, treating them as celebrities and role models rather than public servants, it shatters the foundation of the citizen legislature intended by our Founding Fathers.
Therefore, it should not matter what a politician says, does, sounds like or looks like. It is of little value what gender or race they are, or how educated or experienced they may be. For all intents and purposes, they should be nameless, faceless blobs of mass.
The only thing that matters is what values and ideals the politician is willing to fight to defend. Do yourself a favor and vote for policies ahead of politicians.
You are an American. You are free to do whatever you wish with your vote — under the rule of law, of course.
Skip it, waste it, protest it, sit it out, shrug it off, write it in, laugh it off — or use it to promote and advance the values you hold dear.
My hope is that if you follow some of these rules, you’ll put your civic right — not duty — to good use this Election Day.