Why You Mustn’t Not Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils
Millions of conscientious, God-honoring Christians all over America face an anguishing choice: Do I vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, both with despicable moral character, or do I vote for some other candidate, or not at all?
Let’s try to untangle this knotty problem.
First, not voting at all, or voting for a third candidate with no (non-miraculous) chance of winning, harms one of two (or more) candidates who could win. Not voting at all, or voting for a third-party or independent candidate, in November means harming either Clinton or Trump.
Some will object, “A non-vote for A is not a vote for B any more than a non-vote for B is a vote for A.”
On the contrary: Assume a voting population of 20. If 10 vote for A and 10 for B, neither wins and there’s a runoff. If 10 vote for A and 9 for B and 1 for a third-party candidate or nobody, A wins; or vice versa.
But some will reply, “Then my non-votes for both of them cancel each other out.”
Wrong. You cannot deprive both, because you cannot vote for both. Voting for neither deprives one of a vote he or she might otherwise have. Hence, your non-vote is a vote lost from the one you could have chosen over the other, had you shouldered the responsibility to determine, to the best of your ability, which would do more, and which less, harm.
Our responsibility is to make the wisest choice we can between real options (i.e., those with a non-miraculous prospect of winning). Not voting, or voting for someone with no real chance of winning, shirks that responsibility.
Lesser of Two Evils
Still, some will respond, “If I would never have voted for Clinton or Trump to begin with, how is my not voting, or voting for another candidate, giving a vote to, or taking one away from, either?”
When only two candidates have a real chance of winning, a vote for anyone else, or a decision not to vote, deprives whichever one the voter would have chosen as the lesser of two evils of a vote. That could cause a tie or a loss instead of a victory.
“But doesn’t 1 Corinthians 10:13 say we never face a situation in which it is impossible for us not to sin?”
It does, but the choice is not between one and another sin, such as between murdering and bearing false witness, or between stealing and committing adultery. In such a choice, both are always wrong, and the right choice is neither.
The choice in an election is instead one between two evils external to oneself but that one has the possibility of preventing, e.g., dying soon from cancer versus suffering the amputation of a cancerous limb or the ravages of chemotherapy, or preventing murderer A from killing one person versus preventing murderer B from killing twenty, when one can prevent one but not both.
I have no objection to voting for a third candidate if that candidate actually has a (non-miraculous) chance of winning, or voting for a third candidate or not at all if only one candidate has a real chance of winning. (Some may think that’s the case this year, but some such predictions have turned out wrong.) When one is incapable of preventing either of the two evils, one does not sin by not doing what one cannot do.
But when one is capable of preventing the greater of two evils yet chooses not to, then, I believe, he is irresponsible. Proverbs 24:10-12 applies: “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?”
Sin and Voting
“Are you saying not merely that it is not sinful to vote for the candidate one perceives as the lesser of two evils, but that it is sinful not to?”
It depends on one’s knowledge, intent and the extent to which one has been responsible about gaining the knowledge needed for a wise choice.
I think it’s sinful for a voting-age citizen of a country in which citizens have the privilege of voting to fail to take reasonable steps to make a well-informed choice. (It’s also sinful to vote without taking those steps — but that’s a different subject.) This doesn’t mean everyone must become an expert. We all have different callings. But irresponsibility is sin.
I think it’s sinful knowingly to cast a vote the consequence of which one expects to be the occurrence of a greater rather than a lesser evil.
And I think it’s possible to commit sins of ignorance, unintentional sins — i.e., acts done in ignorance that are sinful, though the degree of sinfulness is diminished by ignorance or lack of intent (Leviticus 5:15-19).
On the basis of Romans 14:23, “Whatever is not of faith is sin,” it’s always sinful to act against conscience. But that doesn’t mean it’s never sinful to act according to conscience. Conscience can be misinformed, leading to unintentional sins, even sins we aren’t aware of though God is (1 Corinthians 4:4-5).
Thus, one whose conscience told him he couldn’t vote for A would sin by voting for A. But he might still sin by not voting for A if his conscience were misinformed, especially due to laziness.
But if someone has sought responsibly to know and understand the facts in the choice and the applicable Biblical principles and then has voted according to conscience, I would be loath to accuse him of sin. If indeed he has sinned, that’s not for me to judge, but for God, and I am confident God will make him aware of it.
The Holy Spirit comes to convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8). Romans 14 teaches that there are difficult moral issues on which people’s consciences can differ and neither should condemn the other.
“Ending Evil” is Not on the Ballot
Yet some will insist, “By picking the lesser of the two evils, you condone a party’s downward spiral. We need to choose to end evil.”
I understand and sympathize, but the time to turn a party around is in the local and state party functions and elections and primaries. In the general election, the choice isn’t between trying to straighten out the party and not trying, it’s between candidate A of one party and all the appointees and policies that are part of his or her package, and candidate B of another party and all the appointees and policies that are part of her or his package.
Equally important, “End Evil” isn’t on the ballot. All candidates are sinners. None will conduct himself flawlessly. Consequently every choice between candidates is a choice between two (or more) evils, and thus a choice in which one is responsible to choose the lesser (or least).
In short, faced with the responsibility of doing what one can to prevent the greater of two evils, the refusal to vote for the lesser is a vote to permit the greater.
So vote. Vote for the candidate and accompanying policies and appointees you think will do more good and less harm. Any other choice is a choice to permit the victory of the candidate, policies and appointees you think will do more harm and less good.
Calvin Beisner, Ph.D. (Scottish History/History of Political Thought) is former Associate Professor of Social Ethics at Knox Theological Seminary and Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.