Is Abstaining From Voting Sinful?

The cynicism that skepticism about the integrity of the political system should make us absent ourselves from the process can’t be the answer.

This year more than half of the world’s population lives in countries that will have elections of great importance. Bloomberg news service says that these elections “will shape the geo-economic landscape for years to come.” Is it alright for Catholics to sit out elections? Some respectable people seem to think so.

In Ohio last November, 52 percent of the eligible voters skipped voting on a terrible abortion amendment which goes further than Roe v. Wade to deny protection to human life in the womb. The bishops of Ohio were “all in” on the issue, and there was more preaching done about it than ever before from Catholic pulpits. This was because it was clearly a moral issue on the ballot and not involved in partisan politics, although most of the GOP in the state were on the side of the angels.

Nevertheless, by a wide margin, voters enshrined abortion into the legal system of the state. Recreational marijuana was also legalized but with less votes than abortion. In the aftermath of the triumph of the pro-aborts, I was disturbed to find out that some of my employees at the parish and a few of the daily Mass people didn’t bother to vote. Would there have been enough pro-life voters in the majority who didn’t vote? There is no way of knowing, but it appears to be a dereliction of duty not to try to stop the abortion industrial complex.

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There are reasons to have doubts about elections. Recently, in the state of Virginia, more Biden votes were found. In Great Britain, a computer system used by the Postal Service was revealed to have had a glitch that resulted in 700 persons being convicted of stealing money, and it was the fault of the machines. Skepticism about voting systems has been punished as a treasonable crime. 

Why is it impossible to think that “glitches” might have rendered the results of the 2020 election suspect? This, besides questionable exceptions to the law in Pennsylvania about absentee balloting, supposedly an intervention because of the pandemic, and then all the voters’ rolls that were swollen with the names of hundreds of thousands of ineligible persons. However, the cynicism that skepticism about the integrity of the system should make us absent ourselves from the process can’t be the answer.

The presidential election in 2024 looks like it might be a rematch of the two old men who ran in 2020. I am praying that this scenario changes, but I am also afraid that disgust with the personality of some politicians will mean some people will abstain from voting. The “lesser of two evils” approach is a valid one when we are voting for a monarch. The executive branch has become a monarchy by rotation, with all sorts of powers that used to be distributed to the other branches now in the hands of one person and a powerful, unelected, bureaucracy. Not voting implies that there is a moral equivalency of the two regimes proposed in the two candidates.  Not voting implies that there is a moral equivalency of the two regimes proposed in the two candidates. Tweet This

I speak of the regimes, not of the private lives of the monarchs involved. It is obvious that neither of the old men is a philosopher prince out of Plato. But I do think that one of them can say that he is more sinned against than sinning. The barrage of accusations and the kangaroo courts are hyped in the media. But there is a goose and gander thing going on: a double standard is manifest both in the actions of the Justice Department and in the court of public opinion contaminated by extreme prejudice against one side. There can be a case made for seeing the lawsuits and the snidery of some of the judges and juries involved as an attempt to interfere in a process best left to the voters.

It is sad to admit it, but our leaders seem to be immune from humility. In the ’50s, a losing candidate for president remarked, “I did not say that I am qualified for the presidency of the United States and if anyone says to you that he is, will you tell him that he lacks the first qualification, which is humility.” 

One cannot even imagine one of our candidates saying that today. We now can only expect hubris from our would-be monarchs. Kings can have very narrow minds and sympathies. They rarely escape some kind of corruption, that being a natural consequence of unexamined use of power. They can be vulgar and lack magnanimity of spirit. One may wish they said less than they do. I think of the verse in Sirach, “the mind of a fool is in his mouth.”

So much of political discourse these days is made of catch phrases and clichés. Edgar Allan Poe, in his “The Purloined Letter,” mentions a saying of Chamfort, a French moralist, about most received ideas being suspect because they are based on the analysis connected to the lowest common denominator. Conventional wisdom is an oxymoron when we look at the chorus of pundits on cable television. Conventional anti-wisdom is broadcast in waves across our society. Political campaigns toss sound bites at each other like children do mudpies, with often as much thinking behind the action. As Oscar Wilde said, there is nothing like a cliché, for it “makes the whole world kin.” 

He also said that the truth is rarely pure and never simple. The ingenuousness of refusing to enter a fight because of unequal defects obvious on both sides can be an abstention of responsibility. We need to be as prudent as serpents, always discriminating, always weighing the consequences of allowing what that old sinner Voltaire wrote about: “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien,” the best is the enemy of the good. Because we cannot have the perfect triumph of good, we should not reject partial victories.

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]


  • Msgr. Richard C. Antall

    Monsignor Antall is pastor of Holy Name Parish in the Diocese of Cleveland. He is the author of The X-Mass Files (Atmosphere Press, 2021), and The Wedding (Lambing Press, 2019).

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