Election day is upon us, and so are the traps that come with it. Be sure you avoid these pitfalls, and help others avoid them, too!
1. I’m a nobody – I only have one vote, and my vote doesn’t count!
This trap overlooks the lessons of history that show how elections can be decided by a single vote or by a handful of votes. Can we forget the ordeal of the 2000 presidential election? Less well-known, perhaps, are these facts: Way back in 1845 in the U.S. Congress, Texas became a state by one vote. In 1923, one vote in the German Parliament gave Hitler leadership of the Nazi Party.
A shift of less than one vote per precinct in a handful of states would have defeated Woodrow Wilson in his bid for re-election in 1916. A few votes per precinct in Illinois and a couple of other states and then Vice President Richard Nixon would have defeated John F. Kennedy in 1960. The same is true in elections at every level.
In 1974, Rep. Louis Wyman was declared the victor in the U.S. senate race in New Hampshire, after a recount, by just two votes. If only a few additional people in each precinct in Ohio had voted differently in the 1976 presidential election, Mr. Ford would have been our president, not Mr. Carter. Around the same time, the governor of Ohio beat out a challenging candidate by a margin of one vote per precinct.
Yes, your one vote counts, and you can also influence many other votes!
2. They’re all bums! No candidate is worthwhile!
This is the trap of looking for the non-existent perfect candidate. But your vote is not to canonize the candidate; it is to give him or her temporary power to do some limited good. If both choices look evil, try to see how one may be better than the other. This is not choosing the lesser evil. Rather, it is choosing to limit evil, and that choice is a good.
3. I can’t be a single-issue voter!
First of all, most people are. It is a single issue that usually motivates a person to rally around the candidate who supports that issue.
But if you don’t want to be a single-issue voter, at least you can be an intelligent one, and realize how the many issues are related. At the foundation of them all is the right to life, without which no others are possible. If a politician can’t respect the life of a little baby, how is she supposed to respect yours?
4. The election doesn’t matter. We can’t put our trust in worldly power. Those we elect whom we think are on our side disappoint us anyway.
We don’t put our trust in earthly power and government, but in the Lord. Political involvement is not our salvation, but it is our duty. It is God Himself who gives us the opportunity and wisdom to shape our society according to His laws. Surely, any human leader can disappoint us, and many do. But we are not responsible for predicting or controlling the future, nor are we capable to do so. We are responsible for analyzing the positions of the candidates and choosing whose positions correspond to the moral law and the common good.
5. I’ll show them! -using the election to take out our anger or resolve a personal problem.
Sometimes individuals or groups vote reactively. A candidate, or a party, did them wrong, and so they want to teach them a lesson by voting vindictively. This may help to vent a personal frustration, but who suffers in the process? It would be far better to go to the gym and take out your anger on a punching bag, or go into a field and yell. But those you elect to public office will influence a lot of people-and unborn babies-for a long time. Look beyond your personal problems or agendas.
6. The media says… -I am swayed by what the news says about who is winning.
Look, what you do determines what the polls say, not vice-versa. Decide whom to vote for based on who is the better candidate, and then cast that vote without paying any attention to what the news reports are saying. If you think you will be swayed by a news report, don’t listen to the news until after you vote.
7. I’ll go later…
Go to vote first thing in the morning. If you delay going to vote until later in the day, you increase the chances that you will be distracted or hindered by some problem that arises unexpectedly. You may also become busier than you anticipated, and might forget. The rule is: the earlier, the better.
8. Until next time…
At end of election day, don’t say, Ah…Now I don’t have to worry about elections for a while. No, you have to start working on the next election now. This is the best time to start. The mistakes you made in this election cycle are fresh in your mind, and now is the time to make a list of all the things you could have done if you had thought of them sooner. Plan to do them for the next election. So it’s not until next time… Next time is here.
9. Overconfidence or dejection-
If the election goes the way you want, do not become overconfident or lazy. Work harder than ever to encourage and assist those whom you helped elect.
If it does not go the way you want, set your energies on doing damage control, and on challenging those who were elected to govern in a way that follows the moral law.
In all cases, keep your focus on God and on the future. There is work to do, there is no time to waste, and the truth always prevails.
Used with permission. Father Frank Pavone is director of Priests for Life.