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Refusing to Vote?

With the U.S. presidential election fast approaching, and many voters unimpressed with both candidates and their parties, a legitimate question is being posed: can one abstain from voting in an election for reasons of conscience? What does the Bark of Peter have to say on this?

The Catholic Church teaches that participating in political life is actually a moral obligation, and that in doing so, we ought to be guided more by moral convictions than by attachment to a political party. This is hard for us tribal types, but this is why it's essential that we inform our consciences well before voting.

If someone refuses to vote because after studying the election candidates he or she cannot in good conscience vote for any of them, that is their free prerogative. But the Catechism takes pains to remind us that “submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country” (CCC 2240). Morally obligatory to vote! Is that obligation non-negotiable?

Alongside that obligation comes an important caveat, the principle that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.” Christians may and often do find themselves in positions where none of the candidates for election are acceptable to their consciences, especially on the “non-negotiables” – the life issues of abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research and cloning, and the redefinition of marriage. Candidates who publically support the advancement of these issues cannot be supported, and voters who knowingly support them would be guilty of material cooperation with evil, even if we didn't intend to support that side of their policy.

When we find that all political candidates are deficient on non-negotiables, then, we may choose not to vote, or it may be necessary “to hold one’s nose” and support the candidate who takes the fewest such positions or seems least likely to advance such legislation.

The lesser the office, the less likely the office-holder will advance certain foundational issues. City council, for example, will likely never deal with human cloning. But it is still important to evaluate every candidate, no matter what the office: tomorrow's candidates for higher offices will come mainly from today's candidates for lower offices. It is therefore prudent to apply the same standards to local candidates as to higher ones. 

All this requires applied thoughtfulness and work, but such is the labour and the benefit of democracy.

(adapted from article in the October 2012 issue of the Messenger of the Sacred Heart)


  1. It all makes sense. Wish more people would looked into how the really ought to live their lives and make good choices.

  2. It is also possible, in some provinces (but not, if I remember correctly, federally) to formally reject one's ballot by handing it back to the returning officer. Rejected ballots are recorded, and counted separately from spoiled ballots.


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