Making your vote count, The Anchor, November 02, 2012

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
Putting Out Into The Deep
November 02, 2012

A month ago I received an email from a young woman from our diocese who is studying in Ohio. She was asking advice about whether she should register to vote in Ohio or get an absentee ballot to vote in Massachusetts. She wanted her vote to make the biggest difference it could.

I wrote her back saying I was proud of her just for asking the question. It showed how seriously and responsibly she was living her faith and trying to exercise care over the common good. Rather than answer her question directly, I tried to engage her in a conscience-forming dialogue, asking her to compare the advantages, as a Catholic voter, to casting her ballot here or where she’s going to school.

She replied saying that the greatest advantage to voting in Massachusetts would be to defeat item #2, which is trying to give doctors the legal permission to prescribe poison to enable people with terminal diagnoses to kill themselves. According to the polls, she said she thought her ballot would make little difference in the presidential election. While she believed her vote could be consequential in her Congressional district and the race for Senate, in both campaigns, however, she framed both races as pitting a gung-ho pro-abortion candidate against a pro-choice candidate who basically supports some abortion restrictions. She said she wasn’t particularly excited to vote for someone as the lesser of two evils.

Turning to Ohio, she admitted that she didn’t know anything yet about the Ohio Senatorial election or even who was running for Congress in her district. But she thought that if she registered in the Buckeye State, her vote might make a difference in the presidential election, since most election experts then — and still now — look to Ohio as the most important of all the battleground states that could decide the whole contest. In that election, she said, she would be able to vote to defeat a candidate who not only is staunchly in favor of abortion but is trying to force Catholics and all people of conscience to have to pay through their insurance policies for others to have free access to chemical abortions, sterilizations and contraception; whose policies, as the U.S. bishops have said, could force Catholic schools, hospitals, food pantries and other charitable institutions to close through crippling fines rather than exempt them from having to pay for these practices; who is trying to redefine Marriage to be a husband-less or wife-less institution and who has instructed his lawyers to argue that the belief that Marriage is a union of one man and one woman is bigoted and unconstitutional; and who, she fears, will nominate as justices to the Supreme Court only those who support abortion and the radical redefinition of Marriage.

She wasn’t thrilled with the main alternative — whom she didn’t trust because of how easily he’s changed his positions over the years on crucial issues — but she said that while there’s some doubt about whether that candidate will keep his campaign promises, there’s little doubt over what the first candidate will continue to advance.

I gave her feedback on what she had written and asked her to identify, among all that she had noted, what for her was the biggest and most realistically achievable goal that could come from her casting her ballot. She emailed two days later stating that even if the battle against the assisted suicide ballot item was lost, we could still work to try to prevent the suicides, and so her vote, as important as it would be, was not necessarily a game-changer. In terms of abortion and Marriage, because much of the debate is happening in the courts, she thought that even if fervent Pro-Lifers were elected to the White House, the Senate and Congress, progress in many areas would probably be slow and bumpy. But she said that with regard to the presidential election, there would be a dramatic impact on the question of religious freedom and whether the Church’s overall charitable mission can continue unencumbered. On that basis, she decided to register to vote in Ohio.

I recount this conversation not because many of us are going to be in the situation of determining where to vote, but to highlight the type of seriousness with which all of us should approach our solemn Christian and civic duty. Our votes always matter. They matter not just because there are occasionally elections like the 2000 presidential election in which 537 votes in Florida decided the entire contest. They matter not just because they express our deepest values and preferences and form our character. They matter because, one way or another, they express a message, a message that countless candidates, consultants, pollsters, pundits and others grasp.

Even when an election or ballot item doesn’t go the way one wants, a message is sent. When one scribbles in a write-in candidate rather than vote for two or more candidates whose positions one can’t stomach, a message is sent. One of the reasons why so many races in Massachusetts are uncompetitive and both parties routinely put up candidates who support intrinsic evils is because Catholics here have largely demonstrated in past elections that, unlike the Catholic girl from our diocese studying in Ohio, their faith matters very little to them when they vote.

Last week, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput talked plainly about the message Catholics are called proclaim at the ballot box. “We’re Catholics before we’re Democrats. We’re Catholics before we’re Republicans,” he said. “We’re even Catholics before we’re Americans, because we know that God has a demand on us prior to any government demand on us.” He said a lack of this clear awareness among Catholics has, for example, allowed the Democratic Party to become so virulently pro-abortion. “Catholics have been historically part of the Democrat Party in great numbers, and I think really could’ve stopped [the party’s push for abortion], if they tried, but they didn’t, in order to accommodate people from the other side of the issue. That’s why the position of the Democrat Party has gotten worse and worse as time goes on, because Catholics haven’t abandoned them as they’ve moved in that direction.” Our votes matter and the more Catholics vote in favor of pro-abortion candidates, others notice that our faith isn’t really that important to us.

Archbishop Chaput didn’t spare Republicans either. “You can’t trust the Republicans to be Pro-Life 20 years from now,” he added. “You can’t let any party take your vote for granted. And that’s unfortunately what’s happened. I think many of the Democrats have (taken) Democrat Catholic votes for granted because they’ll go with them no matter what the party position might be on abortion. … So we just have to be insistent on that, Catholic identity takes precedence over everything.”

Our Catholic faith is meant to influence every thing we do. Catholics should vote differently from the general populations, and consistent with the teaching of the faith. When we do, that’s when our votes will matter. That’s when no party will be able to take our votes for granted. That’s when Catholicism in our country will regain its salt and once more become real light and leaven for the betterment of the country we love.

Let’s make our votes count on Tuesday.