Voting when you don’t want to vote for either candidate

There’s an election coming up in the US. It occurred to me that the way we usually describe it may be misleading to some Americans who haven’t voted before.  We call it a presidential election, but there’s a lot more than that on the ballot. We call it casting your vote, but it’s not really one vote, it’s more like a lot of different votes that happen to be on the same piece of paper or the same screen.

You don’t have to cast a vote in every contest that’s on your ballot. If you don’t want to cast a vote for some of the offices, you can still cast your vote for all the offices you *do* want to vote for. For instance, some people vote for a presidential candidate and the other federal offices, but don’t bother with the local politics. Some people do the reverse and only vote in local campaigns. Or any number of other things. You don’t have to vote for everything to vote for something.

Speaking personally, I wish I had realized this sooner. I didn’t vote in one of the elections I was eligible to vote in, because I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either presidential candidate. I regret that, in part because I don’t think I did any good by not voting (one of them won anyway, I just didn’t get any influence over which one). But even aside from that, and I think in some ways more importantly — I regret sitting that election out because there were so many other things on the ballot I could have voted for.

If I wasn’t willing to vote for a President, I could have voted for a senator and a congressional representative. If I wasn’t willing to vote for the federal candidates, I could have voted for state-level elected officials. If I wasn’t willing to vote for state officials, I could have voted in the local contests for mayor, for town council, for sheriff, and for school board. If I couldn’t bring myself to vote for any candidate for any federal, state, or local office, I could at least have voted for the local library bond measure.

In the town I lived in, a lot of the public library’s funding depends on the voters. When bond measure are approved, the library gets more funding. It can be open more hours. They have more and better books, computers, and programming. Immigrants who need help learning English, and kids and adults who need help learning to read, are much more likely to get it. Growing up, I remember the bond measures being voted down more often than not.

Moving into an area in which the library is well funded, I can see what a difference that makes. The library closest to me has a lot of high quality books, science discovery kits for kids, homework help, a programming camp for teenagers, ASL interpretation and captioning at library programs for people who request it, ASL learning resources, public meeting rooms, discussion groups for English learners, and any number of other things that matter. All of those things cost money, and libraries can only do them if they get funded. Elections tend to affect that either directly by voting on a bond measure, or indirectly by electing a candidate who does or doesn’t prioritize libraries.

So — if you’re where I was at back then, if you don’t want to vote for a presidential candidate — you don’t have to stay home to abstain from that. If you can’t stand any of the candidates for mayor, or president, or senate, or whatever other office, you can still vote for everything else. If there’s only one issue you can stand to vote on, or one office you can stand to pick a candidate for, it’s still your vote, and you still have the right to cast it. There’s going to be a lot on the ballot that’s available to you. It’s worth knowing what it is.

If you want to find out what will be on your local ballot, www.VOTE411.org has information. You can enter your address and get a sample ballot and information about how to register to vote. Votesmart.org also has information about local candidates. If you want to find out whether things you’ve heard about a state or federal candidate are true, politifact.com and factcheck.org are good resources. The Legaue You can also google your local board of elections website (“[your county] board of elections] and “voting in [your state]” are search terms that usually get useful results.

Tl;dr If you’re eligible to vote in a US election, and you’re not sure that you want to vote this year, it’s worth finding out what will be on your local ballot beyond the presidential election. There may be things you do want to vote for.