When and When Not to Vote Your Conscience.

It’s not always smart to reject the idea of picking the lesser of two evils. Here’s why.

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Photo via Hillary Clinton on Instagram

2016 was the first election in which I was able to vote, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was angry. Angry at the DNC, angry at Hillary Clinton, angry at voters who in my view were voting against their best interest, angry at Donald Trump, and angry at the options in front of us in November, who were — to put it kindly — subpar. Perhaps one of the most upsetting aspects of the entire cycle for me was following Bernie Sanders’ campaign from the time when his name recognition alone was just at 2 or 3 percent, seeing him rise, and then watching as my home state of New York was the primary that essentially ended the viability of his campaign.

That election cycle was a wake up call in ways that could take hours to discuss, but hindsight is oftentimes twenty-twenty, and in my view it was a growing and learning experience for a number of young people, including myself. On my most frustrated days, I was one of those angry young “Bernie bros” who adamantly swore up and down that I would not bow my head, and vote Hillary Clinton. Her pick of Tim Kaine as a running mate put me over the edge, and in my view was a complete snub of the grass roots efforts and the energy of the Democratic base. After that, I promised to be “Bernie or Bust”.

In the end however, even though I was in a solidly blue state, I held my nose and voted for the “lesser of two evils”. Of course, as we know, the rest is history.

I’ve thought about what it means to vote my conscience a lot in the days leading up to that election, and maybe even more since then. I understand the anger and the resentment because I felt it, deeply. Negative emotions as powerful as those can potentially lead to a lot of self destructive actions, clouded judgement, and losing sight of the bigger picture.

In the days leading up to the general election, I was forced to grow up and acknowledge that the “stop choosing between a lesser of two evils” argument was only justifiable on it’s surface, and as soon as I put aside my ego it was easy to understand why so many felt that it was fruitless and frankly dangerous to chose that moment for a protest vote. It clicked for me too fairly quickly after that.

I’m not going to shame anyone in a solidly blue or red state who decided to cast a protest vote. We’re in the position where unfortunately our vote really doesn’t matter given the context of our political electoral system. But overall, all of us have a responsibility to analyze the situation at hand, look at the potential consequences of our actions, and make sound decisions in that moment. All of it comes down to acknowledging everything that’s at stake. As much as I understand the anger, I could not see myself justifying my protest vote when issues such as healthcare, climate, and foreign policy were at stake. No, Hillary Clinton would not have fought for Medicare for All, but she would not be working to do away with the Affordable Care Act. Yes, Hillary Clinton was fairly weak when it came to climate change and holding corporations accountable for their environmental impact, bur she would not be rolling back the regulations that already existed. Yes, Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War, but I think it’s safe to say that she would not have taken us to the point where we’re ten minutes away from war with Iran.

I am by no means trying to justify Hillary Clinton’s abysmal record, or her campaign strategy. She turned her back on her base, she coordinated with the DNC to rig the election in her favor, and just like it’s the responsibility of voters to pick the lesser of two evils in a general election if they have to, she needs to take responsibility for her actions (something I’m sure she will never do). We are living the consequences of her inadequacies as a candidate, and we are living the consequences of the decisions by some who put their pride above what was the rational, practical choice given the options we had in front of us.

But 2016 is in the past, and we need to use it as a learning tool. Unfortunately, it looks as though we could be making the same mistakes we made in 2016, and that is why NOW during the primary is the time to vote our conscience. Hillary Clinton and the DNC may not have learned their lesson, but lets show them that their base did. Show them we are coming out in droves to organize for a candidate picked by the people, not someone they want to pick for us.

We have options, so don’t vote for a candidate just because they seem like a safe bet. Look where that got us. Now more than at any other point in an election cycle is when we get to make our politicians work for and earn our vote, so give your vote to the candidate you think best represents you. Critique our candidates. Don’t resort to personal attacks, but analyze substance, records, and policy. Don’t let anyone shame you for pointing out a flaw in a candidate. That is the entire purpose of a primary: to find the strongest candidate that best represents the base. In fact, I would argue we have an obligation at this point to vote our conscience, and pick the candidate who we feel best represents our views. If there was any silver lining of 2016 it’s that it made people more politically aware, so use that opportunity to engage with those who support other candidates. Learn about that candidate’s strengths, and tell them about the strengths of the candidate you support.

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Lauren is a writer & leftist with analysis on topics related to politics & policy. She can be reached at LaurenMartinchek@gmail.com or Twitter @xlauren_mx

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