Oct 19, 2011
Catholics have a responsibility to participate in public life in order to positively influence our communities, our states and our nation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the duty to vote is “morally obligatory” and further summarizes a Catholic’s public duties in paragraphs 2238 through 2246. We cannot sit on the sideline and expect secular culture to move toward truth; we must actively bring our values to government through the ballot box.
In our form of government, we relinquish individual freedom in exchange for a peaceable society that protects families and individuals in the fulfillment of their rights and duties. This society is a republic, not a pure democracy, and is guided by laws written by our elected representatives. If Catholics do not vote, if our voices are not heard by those in power, these officials may advocate for policies, regulations and statutes contrary to the teachings of the Church and which offend our consciences.
In an article titled, "Voting May Be Habit-Forming: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment," Professors Gerber, Green and Shachar of Yale University conducted a study of voting behavior. This study concluded that voting is habit forming; the more often a person voted in the person, the more likely that person is to vote in the future. As Catholics, we need to understand this fact and adjust our behavior accordingly.
There are five main reasons to vote in every election:
First, voting is habit forming. If we want to be faithful citizens, we need to vote regularly and inculcate habitual voting in our children. Family political discussions at election time and a parent bringing his or her underage child to the polls are excellent ways to teach the habit of voting to the next generation.
Second, it is possible to avoid casting a ballot with whom we do not agree or about whom we know nothing. In this situation, a voter may either leave the ballot blank (and cast an “undervote”) or vote “none of the above.” This fulfills our Catholic obligation to vote and strengthens the voting habit without violating our conscience.
Third, prior to every election, political candidates compile a list of “likely voters.” Based on the principle of voting as a habit, these “likely voters” are those who have participated regularly in prior elections and are the ones to whom the campaign is directed. A habitual voter is likely to receive direct mail, campaign phone calls or candidate visits. Communications by candidates educate voters on that candidate’s platform while a personal visit or phone call is an excellent opportunity for a Catholic to express his or her opinion on issues to the candidate in a conversational atmosphere.
Fourth, all elections have consequences to Catholics and their families. Whether it is the sexual education curriculum of the local school board, a local government entity seeking to provide health benefits to the unmarried or homosexual “partners” of employees or even the county hospital prescribing the “morning after” pill as an abortifacient contrary to Church teaching, the opportunity to positively influence secular culture is available to habitually voting Catholics in every election.
Finally, voting begets other habits that are a boon to our communities. A habitual voter is likely to familiarize himself or herself with local issues in order to participate intelligently in local elections. A vigilant electorate is more attuned to the nature of local, state and national government and less patient with corruption by elected officials. Habitual voting translates into more efficient, more transparent and more honest government.
Voting in every election, large and small, is as important to good Catholic citizenship as regular exercise is to maintaining bodily health. It is not enough to study voting guides; this information is of no use to someone who fails to vote on Election Day. In order to maximize our influence as Catholic voters and amplify beyond our individual numbers, we need to adopt voting as a lifelong habit.