Sitting it Out Should Not be an Option: Get Out and Vote, It Matters!
After what feels like forever, thank God it is finally here. November 8 could not come any sooner. This election has created an incredibly divisive atmosphere filled with vitriol, rhetoric, and people on both sides having a general disbelief that anyone could possibly tolerate, let alone support, the “other” candidate. Our mailboxes, inboxes, televisions, and radios have been inundated with negative ads like never before and we are all desperate to move on and put this contentious election behind us.
There is only one thing left to do – vote. That may sound obvious and, indeed, in most presidential elections it is. However, more than ever before, I have been hearing people who are disgusted by both major candidates conclude that since they cannot stomach voting for either, they are simply going to sit this one out. I am sympathetic to that sentiment and conclusion, and as tempted as I am to follow it myself, I want to suggest a few reasons it remains critically important to vote in this election and in every election.
Your Vote Matters – In 2000, President George W. Bush was elected by only 537 votes, some of which were cast in our very district. Put another way, the number of people who go the 9:00 a.m. Minyan on Shabbos morning at BRS decided a presidential election. That same year a Connecticut Congressman won by 21 votes and a representative from Vermont was elected by a margin of 1. Voting in South Florida matters. It has decided elections and may do so again. If you sit it out, you are neglecting and abdicating an opportunity and responsibility to influence policy and the future of our country.
Amendments Matter – We sit around Shabbos tables debating and discussing issues like taxes, medical marijuana, and more. On Tuesday we will have an opportunity to not only voice our opinion, but to shape policies and laws on these issues and others. Research the proposed amendments, understand them, take a position on them, and participate in the process of deciding them.
Gratitude Matters – On October 3, 1984, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, the undisputed Halachic authority of America at the time, wrote a responsa—on his stationary and fixed with his signature—regarding the obligation to vote:
On reaching the shores of the United States, Jews found a safe haven. The rights guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights have allowed us the freedom to practice our religion without interference and to live in this republic in safety.
A fundamental principle of Judaism is Hakaras HaTov – recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedoms we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote.
Therefore, I urge all members of the Jewish community to fulfill their obligations by registering as soon as possible, and by voting. By this, we can express our appreciation and contribute to the continued security of our community.
Rav Moshe sees voting as a halachic and moral imperative. Staying home is not just forfeiting an incredible right and privilege. It is an act of ingratitude and thanklessness. Sitting out an election doesn’t just damage the system and hurt the candidates. It hurts the one who fails to express his or her appreciation for freedom and the right to vote.
And so, if you support one of the major party candidates, go out and vote for him or her. If you cannot stomach pulling the lever for either, issue a protest vote by supporting a third-party candidate or by writing in a name. Just don’t sit it out and neglect a privilege and right that many of our ancestors could only have dreamed of having.
There is much at stake in this election beyond the choice of president. Florida is deciding on Supreme Court justices. Local candidates have different views on issues that affect us, such as school choice. National candidates have different views on issues that matter deeply to us such as health care, the economy, foreign policy, and of paramount importance, the US-Israel relationship.
One of the most basic and yet greatest gifts and blessings God has bestowed upon us is our bechirah chofshis, our free will and ability to choose. Choose candidates whose positions and opinions you share. Nobody can or should tell you how to vote, or for whom. But we can and must all tell one another to go out and vote, because it matters.