With both parties having nominated historically unpopular candidates for president, it is tempting to tune this election out all together. After all, if dislike of one candidate — which seems to be the message of both campaigns — isn’t reason enough, then why show up to the polls? If you can’t find the motivation to vote for either Clinton or Trump, is there any reason to vote at all?
The answer, of course, is yes.
For one thing, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are not the only two options for president; you do not have to choose between the two of them. In Maine, voters will also have the option of the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and the Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico for two terms, may be appealing to voters who want the government to stay out from both their personal lives and their pocketbook. If you’re a liberal voter who can’t stomach candidate who seems to be firmly in the pocket of Wall Street, then you might want to give Jill Stein a second look.
Of course, blindly partisan commentators will tell you that if you vote for anyone other than Clinton or Trump you’re throwing your vote away, but that argument is fundamentally flawed. It operates under the assumption that people vote for one reason: to choose a winner. However, there are a whole host of other reasons to vote, including these things called principles. If you have them, you should vote for whomever you think would do the best job (for any office), regardless of whether he or she is likely to win. You owe it to yourself and the country to make the best decision, not simply the least painful one.
The fact is, it’s not the voters who have failed by refusing to support either flawed candidate, it’s the major parties. We all have a civic obligation to participate in the democratic process by voting, but the two major parties have an obligation to field viable, responsible candidates. If they don’t and you vote for their candidates anyway, you’re simply enabling them to make the same bad decisions in the future. If, however, you vote for someone else, one or both parties may realize their mistakes and learn from them.
It’s also important to remember that the presidential election is not the only race on the ballot this fall. Maine has a crucial congressional race in the 2nd District, a plethora of referendum questions, legislative elections all over the state, and local elections. Although many of these races may not get covered as thoroughly as the presidential race, their outcomes often have a larger impact on our day-to-day lives than who occupies the White House. There are a whole host of issues — property taxes, crime, school curriculum, economic development — over which your state legislator or town official has more influence than the president of the United States.
This is especially true in an era with so much partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C. — something that’s unlikely to change no matter who’s president. At every level of government we face decisions, and it’s important not to opt out of these entirely. If you do, you’re opting out of a whole variety of choices: choices about what kind of state Maine is, about what kind of school your child attends, and about what kind of community you live in. Surely, even if you can’t stomach the options at the top of the ticket, at least one of those things matter to you. If they do, you can probably find local candidates to get behind — no matter whom they’re supporting in the presidential election.