I returned my absentee ballot to my local town clerk in Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago, joining millions of other Americans who have cast their votes before Election Day. As I always do, I voted a split ticket: the candidates I chose included Democrats, Republicans, and some who belong to neither of the two major parties. I've always been a registered Democrat, albeit a pro-life and culturally conservative one, but in practice I am a very independent voter. This year I limited myself to the choices on the ballot, but in some years I’ve written in names in some races – serious write-ins, people who were eligible and qualified for the positions in question – and I’ve taken a certain blithe satisfaction in later checking the vote returns for my precinct and sometimes finding a single write-in vote (mine!) noted after the totals for the candidates who were actually on the ballot.
In recent weeks, some of my Canadian friends have asked me whether I found it difficult to choose between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I’ve usually responded by saying that I shouldn’t be expected to have to choose either one of them: I have good reasons not to vote for Obama and not to vote for Romney, and I'm pleased that the various third parties provide principled alternatives for voters who find the two major candidates equally unpalatable. I would not argue, as Alasdair MacIntyre once did, that the proper response to a choice between two unacceptable candidates is to not vote at all, nor would I follow the suggestion of one of my brother Jesuits and not cast a vote for president while voting in other contests on the ballot. Not voting - or casting a blank ballot, which amounts to the same thing - is not a very effective way to make one's voice heard; by contrast, voting for a third-party candidate offers a much clearer expression of discontent with the choices offered by the two major parties, even when the message sent by one's vote remains largely unheeded.
As I wrote at the time of the last presidential election, I do not regard voting in elections as a means of 'helping to build up the Kingdom of God,' as some might suggest. Only God can build the Kingdom of God, and the good that can be achieved through the political process - as great as it may sometimes be - always remains essentially contingent and impermanent; it seems ridiculous to suggest that voting for Obama or Romney or anyone else is going to bring us closer to the absolute Good of union with God, but somehow that doesn't stop a lot of commentators on American politics from saying otherwise. It is important that we vote with an informed conscience, but even as we do so we should remain mindful of Augustine's admonition that we have here no lasting city.
As I anticipate the results of this election, my humble hope is that this long and bruising campaign will come to a relatively quick and peaceful conclusion. I pray that we will not see long legal disputes of the kinds we have seen in some elections, with an accordingly long wait for the declaration of a winner. In a few hours, we should see whether or not that prayer will be answered. AMDG.