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Voting Matters

Election is one opportunity for people to choose their leaders. It’s an extremely unique experience afforded to people living in a free society. Of all the countries in the world, very few have allowed self-governance through election. Historically, people have fought and died for a free and fair election in their respective countries. No society can be called democratic without election.

In the United States, because of racial discrimination, African-Americans were not allowed to vote until the Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965. The Act was the apotheosis of the civil rights struggle. The right of women to vote was established only in 1920, when the 19th Amendment in the US Constitution was passed. Prior to 1920, women could vote only in certain states.

I am thankful that I live in a country where I can vote. Many people in the world do not have the same right and privilege that I have. Thus, I take my right to cast my vote quite seriously. Voting is personal to me.

But voting per se is not enough. One has to vote for the right candidates to have a better society, which is the goal of any election.

Wendy Wood, PhD, a social psychologist at Duke University, explains that there are two kinds of voters: Election-specific voters and habitual voters. Election-specific voters are motivated by a particular candidate or issue. Habitual voters vote by habit and consistently show up to vote in every election. Voting by habit may be activated by such election cues as family members talking about politics or political signs posted in front yards, but, as Wood says, habitual voters also vote in a thoughtful way.

I tend to be both an election-specific voter and habitual voter. I am always motivated by a particular candidate, especially by someone who is known for his/her probity, and, at the same time, I experience a huge adrenaline rush to vote when opposing candidates from all parties mail me their campaign brochures.

This brings me to the coming presidential election that has inspired record levels of interest in the electorate and, at times, has strained personal relationships among friends who are of opposite political views. Sad, but it has happened to some people I know. This is the first time in my experience as an expat that I have observed how people are so polarized, sometimes bitter, during this election that they are ready to tear one another. This is not a typical election.

Given how toxic the current political condition is because of President Trump’s dystopian rhetoric and his attempts to disenfranchise voters through “voter fraud” lies and other forms of voter intimidation tactics seen in some states, I am tempted at times not to vote. Why vote if my ballot will not be counted? Why go to the polls and wait in line for hours, if my vote will not make any difference?

After much soul-searching, I have arrived at the conclusion that what is at stake in this year’s presidential election is too important to ignore. And, this has been verified and strengthened by the millions of people going out this early to vote, some even waiting in line for up to 8 hours.

In every election there are policy issues that every voter has to consider. Good and thoughtful people can differ on the issues that matter to them, which will be the basis of who they will vote for. For me, the candidate who has a clear and doable policy on how to handle the pandemic, systemic racism, emergence of white supremacy, climate change, and unemployment is my preference.

I am not a single-issue voter because life is more complicated than that. I tend to look at every issue wholesidedly. As a Catholic, I am not going to vote for a candidate simply for being anti-abortion. As Bishop Robert W. McElroy said in a speech at the University of San Diego last February, single-issue voting “distorts the call to authentic discipleship rather than advancing it.” He continued, “The death toll from abortion is more immediate, but the long-term death toll from unchecked climate change is larger and threatens the very future of humanity.”

Pope Francis exhorted Catholics in his “Gaudete et Exsultate” (Rejoice and Be Glad) that the Church’s concern for the unborn is real, but he also described as “equally sacred” the lives of the poor and the elderly, human trafficking victims and others who are struggling to survive.

Prof. Richard Jankowski, from the Department of Political Science at the State University of New York, has a theory that voting is a form of altruism, that is, those who are likely to engage in a certain act that most likely to benefit someone else are most likely to cast their vote in elections.

The “someone else” that I would like to benefit from my vote this year are my grandchildren. Even if my preferred candidate loses, I do not want my grandchildren to feel disheartened.

The probability that I will be the deciding vote in the presidential election is nil. But I will cast my vote just the same not for my sake, but for the sake of my grandchildren, who are in their formative stage of learning what is right and what is wrong. I want my grandchildren to learn that integrity, probity, and character are important.

My grandchildren don’t understand yet what the Second Amendment is or what packing the court means or what trade deals are. But they understand – and know the consequences – what it means to lie, to be disrespectful, to insult others, to be a bully, and to demean others. I have seen Trump on TV exhibit these behaviors in many forms and they have raised serious concerns of the kind of person he is.

Associated Press recently printed a story of an undecided Republican voter who had a tearful conversation with a friend she has known since 3rd grade and who has concerns about Trump’s embrace of QAnon. QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory that alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles are running a global child sex-trafficking ring (Wikipedia). The Republican voter is quoted to have said, “If I voted for Biden it wouldn’t be for myself, it would be for my friend.”

In my case and to borrow what the Republican voter said, “If I voted for Biden it wouldn’t be for myself, it would be for my grandchildren.”

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