Last Saturday my husband and I voted, which just happened to be the day after the FBI’s announcement concerning Hillary Clinton’s emails. But the headlines weren’t a factor in us going to vote; simply, for several weeks the date had been marked on our calendar with a smiley face and the words Go Vote! written in cheerful purple ink.
But that morning as I inserted my ballot into the machine I was anything but cheerful. And I wasn’t smiling. This entire election season has weighed heavily on me not only because of its contentiousness, but because our two eldest sons would be voting in their first general election and I was viewing the entire process through their eyes.
“Our first time voting for president and these are our choices?” asked one son.
Yes, indeed. After a primary season of drawn battle lines and hurled insults, after more qualified candidates were ignored or forced out, and after the dust finally settled, like it or not, these were our choices for president. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any more sordid, it did, and the entire nation entered a political season the likes of which will be talked about for generations.
As a writer, I haven’t been shy about sharing my struggle about this election. During the primaries this past March, I wrote a guest column for The Augusta Chronicle in which I listed all the reasons why I could not vote for Donald Trump (One key question canhelp us recognize our role in the political arena, Sunday, March 6, 2016). At the time, I honestly thought that out of so many qualified nominees, there was no way he could win the nomination. Boy did I get it wrong.
So like many voters, I was in a bad place. I strongly disliked Trump, and I felt the same about Clinton. In many ways I was very bipartisan in my inherent distrust of both candidates. I suppose the pollsters would have labeled me an undecided voter, but I wasn’t so much undecided as disgusted. What to do?
There was no end to the advice – from family, friends, talk show hosts, political pundits, and experts. Many cautioned to think long term; that is, ignore the candidate and vote on a single issue or strictly for the party’s platform. In theory, a single issue vote made sense – and for me that would be the Pro-Life ticket – but in reality it would mean casting a vote while holding my breath, pinching my nose, and ignoring the elephant in the room (no pun intended). Figuratively, I’d still be standing next to a person I didn’t believe in.
Voting third party, then, was another option. This was new territory for me, which was daunting only because I was starting fresh. I had to learn, read, and investigate my options.
Then there are those who advised me to brandish my vote like a weapon to stick it to the other side. I admired these voters because they were so sure, but in their single-minded quest to keep out the other candidate they ignored any scandal, FBI investigation, sexual assault, or outrageous video that put their candidate in a bad light; furthermore, when their candidate did something wrong they’d protest how the other candidate did something even more wrong.
It’s funny (but really it’s not) because all I could ever see were flaws – serious ones – on both sides.
What ever happened to casting a vote for someone?
Maybe I’ve been too idealistic, but in past elections I always thought of my vote as an expression of what I am voting for; in other words, a vote was my way of saying I believe, hope, and trust you; here is my vote because I have every confidence you will lead our country well, with honor and integrity, and that you will be a role model for our children.
Except this time I can’t say any of that about either candidate. I cannot extol their virtues, sing their praises, or put them on a pedestal. Neither candidate is worthy of my vote, but one will get it because despite all the mess, I will vote. Too many have sacrificed so I can have that privilege, and I will always honor that gift.
So I went to vote last Saturday, and standing next to me was our twelve year old son who, along with his older brothers, is learning that sometimes a leader is not a role model, sometimes life gives us choices in which there are no clear answers, and sometimes we need to struggle to do the right thing.
“I insert the card here,” I whispered to my son. “Then I go through each page and check the boxes. And look, here on the last page, it says ‘CAST YOUR BALLOT.’”
And so I did.
In the end, what did I decide? Well, I’m going to leave it there, preferring to let that question mark represent all who struggled, like I did, with what to do. And hopefully the openness of a question mark – an unknown future, if you will – will lead us on a pathway to something nobler because, as a nation, we can do better than being forced to make the best bad choice.