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Election Day Abstinence: A Coward's Way Out

Gov. Charlie Baker checks in to receive his ballot this past Election Day. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Gov. Charlie Baker checks in to receive his ballot this past Election Day. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
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COMMENTARY

Gov. Charlie Baker voted for no one for president. Principled? Hardly. In fact, it’s downright undemocratic.

I get it. Baker's a Republican but he loathes Donald Trump. Understandably so: The real-estate magnate fundamentally betrays the values of the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln. So then, why not Hillary Clinton? She’s got “believability” issues, Baker says. And of course, the governor is a GOP office holder and she’s a Democrat. Maybe he feels party loyalty demands he not cross the aisle.

Either way, it’s a coward’s way out.

Many — perhaps even most — of us voting this year are unhappy with the two principal nominees. Trump may be undesirable but Clinton too has problems. Picking one or the other means picking the less-bad alternative. But it’s that way, frankly, in most elections. Rarely do any of us have the opportunity of voting for someone with whom we agree completely, in whom we have absolute and utter trust. So we sometimes hold our noses. Refusing to vote at all is a luxury we don’t have.

I suspect that, if pressed, Republican Baker would prefer Clinton. “Believability” issues aside, no one fears her finger on the nuclear trigger. Yet by not voting at all, Baker actually helps Trump.

Why?

Gov. Charlie Baker voted for no one for president. Principled? Hardly. In fact, it’s downright undemocratic.

Because if he had voted for someone, anyone, he would have become part of the denominator (that is, the total number of people who vote for president). By blanking the ballot, however, he’s not part of the denominator, making the votes of other folks even more important.

Think of it this way: If only 3 people voted in the election, and 1 picked Trump, Trump’s percentage would be 33 percent. But if one of those voters — Charlie Baker, let’s say — refused to vote, that 1 vote for Trump would be 1 out of 2 — or 50 percent. That may not matter in Massachusetts, where a Clinton win is a certainty. But if folks in swing-state New Hampshire followed Baker’s example, it could throw that state’s electoral votes to Trump.

Compounding the problem, Baker’s a high-profile figure and he’s sending a message that ultimately depresses overall turnout — especially by Republicans. After all, the presidential race is the big draw. It’s why folks stand in line for hours. But if potential voters were to follow Baker’s example, they’d likely just stay at home, meaning they wouldn’t be participating in any of the down-ballot elections either.

Democrats, perhaps, might cheer this news, since fewer Republicans at the polls mean Democratic candidates and Democratic issues should do better. But while Democrats may cheer, small-d democrats should not. Government “of the people, by the people, for the people” doesn’t happen if the people don’t vote.

Charlie Baker, of all people, should know this.

Charlie and Lauren Baker walk to the polls in Swampscott on Tuesday morning. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Charlie and Lauren Baker walk to the polls in Swampscott on Tuesday morning. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

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Tom Keane Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Tom Keane is a Boston-based writer.

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