Who Should I Vote For? Some Considerations
With municipal elections taking place across the province, ARPA staff often get the question, “Who should I vote for?” Our constant reply is, “We can’t tell you who to vote for, but here’s where the candidates or parties stand on some of the important issues.”
But voting in elections goes beyond just information. There are a number of ethical and strategic considerations to consider when contemplating who to vote for. Here are some considerations that you should keep in mind before you mark the ballot in any election.
Should I vote based on principles or strategy?
Elections, especially under the first-past-the-post system that Canada uses, are messy affairs. People often talk about voting based on principle, meaning that they will vote for the person that best represents their values no matter the likelihood of that person being elected. Other people will prefer to base their vote on strategy to prevent a worse candidate from being elected. One is a positive mindset to voting: vote for someone. The other is a negative mindset: vote to prevent someone else from being elected.
Both voting philosophies are appropriate in different circumstances. In ridings where one party is likely to dominate in the vote count, it may be best to vote for the candidate who is principally aligned with you because strategic voting won’t change the outcome. However, in ridings where the vote is likely to be close, voting for one popular candidate who isn’t quite aligned with your values to prevent another popular candidate who is worse from winning might be a better strategy.
Should I vote based on the party leader, the party platform, or my local candidate?
Again, all three factors are important. Given Canada’s political system at the federal and provincial levels, party leaders have a huge amount of power to whip votes and essentially force their members to vote according to how the party leader wants. Voters can’t ignore party leaders and party affiliation when casting a ballot.
At the end of the day, however, we vote not for party leaders or political parties but for local candidates. That candidate will represent you and your area in parliament, the legislature, or around the municipal council table. Party leaders and political parties aren’t designed to represent you (unless your local candidate is the party leader). Individual candidates can do an enormous amount of work behind the scenes advocating for issues or people. Plus, candidates are not interchangeable. Each one will have a unique perspective on the issues of the day and will have different characteristics that might make them more or less attractive to vote for.
Consider all three factors – party leader, the party platform, and your local candidate – when casting your ballot, but we recommend that you give special attention to your local candidate, if only because the media and our system of government already give enough attention to the parties and their leaders. At the municipal level though, where political parties generally don’t exist, the quality of the local candidate is the only consideration.
What issues should influence my vote?
All of them. As Reformed Christians, we confess that our faith impacts all areas of life and that none are left outside the lordship of Jesus Christ. Hence, single-issue voters aren’t allowing their faith to impact all areas of their life and all areas of politics.
Nevertheless, it is appropriate for some issues to impact our voting intentions more than others. Christians can “rank” some issues as weightier than others. For example, the intentional taking of tens of thousands of lives through abortion or euthanasia is a far greater injustice than whether the Canada Health and Social Transfer increase by the rate of inflation or not. Preventing doctors from mutilating the bodies of children through sex-change surgeries is a far more urgent issue than allowing doctors to privately bill patients for health care services rendered.
But these questions on government transfers and private payment for health care matter too. They hinge on ethical, religious questions as well: what is the proper responsibility of governments? Are governments spending money efficiently? Are health outcomes good? Are people dying because of a lack of care?
There are a million issues under the sun, but we encourage potential voters to incorporate all of these issues into their decision of who to vote for.
Does the personal character and life of the candidate matter?
Absolutely. In the New Testament, we see character requirements for elders and deacons within the church (e.g. Acts 6:3, 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9). The Old Testament too has character expectations for government leaders (e.g. Exodus 18:21). There is no reason why the character of elected church officers should be subject to scrutiny during their election while the characters of elected politicians are given a free pass. “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, 20). “He who is faithful in very little will be faithful in much” (Luke 16:10). If a potential candidate can’t be trusted to act honestly, hold his sexual desires in check, or seek the welfare of others in their personal life, that should be a signal that they will likely not act more righteously once they attain office.
Is the personal character of a candidate more important than his campaign promises? Can Christians vote for politicians with good policies but corrupt characters (and vice versa)? We can’t answer that question with a blanket statement, but Christians ought to consider both sides of that coin and not just look to a politician’s public promises.
What role does my conscience play in voting?
Christian theology places great value on the conscience as a gift from God within each person reminding us of what accords with His law and what does not (e.g. Romans 1). God also gives believers liberty to participate in some activities that other Christians find questionable because what violates one person’s conscience does not necessarily violate another person’s conscience (e.g. 1 Corinthians 7). With this in mind, some Christians claim that they must vote according to their own conscience alone, apart from the advice and recommendations of the broader Christian community.
While we affirm the role that individual conscience plays in the life of believers, our consciences are fallible. We also are relational creatures, designed to be dependent on others. Christians should seek counsel from other people, particularly those bestowed with age and wisdom and office, about how they ought to vote, just as they ought to in other decisions for life. These counsellors may not bind the conscience and compel individual believers to vote for a particular candidate, but Christians should be quick to listen to advice from the wise (e.g. Proverbs 12:15).
Do I have to vote?
Here at ARPA, we always encourage you to use the voice given to each Canadian citizen to vote in every election possible. We stand by that advice, but we recognize that sometimes there are instances where Christians can’t in good conscience vote for any of the candidates because none of them are worthy of our support. Faced with decisions like this, some Christians will choose to remain at home, hoping that their decision to not vote will be a sign of protest.
We suggest that there is a better way to voice this concern. People don’t vote for a variety of reasons: apathy, busyness, forgetfulness, as well as out of protest. If you do not take the time to show up at the ballot box, the political candidates have no idea why you passed up the opportunity to cast a ballot. Your voice will not register.
Instead, if you truly cannot vote for any of the candidates in your area, we suggest that you still go to the polling station and cast a ballot. But, instead of voting for a candidate, spoil your ballot. These spoiled ballots are still counted, not for any particular candidate, but as spoiled ballots. These spoiled ballots send a clearer signal to the candidates; you took the time to use your democratic voice and vote, but you couldn’t support any of the candidates. We suggest that this is a better form of protesting a poor selection of candidates than simply staying home. (And casting a ballot that counts should always be our goal.)
Putting it all together
As mentioned earlier, voting in democratic countries is a messy affair. We can’t tell you who to vote for because there are many different considerations that people must take into account when they decide who to vote for. We do hope, however, that you don’t pass up this opportunity that billions of people throughout history have not had and millions of people have died to gain. Take every opportunity to vote seriously and go cast that ballot!