Blank Spaces (on the Ballot)

By William Cass

As college students, many of us will not be voting in the upcoming presidential election. This inaction is the direct result of laziness, or, more commonly, a feeling of apathy toward politics. That being said, I have to advise you to get out and vote. The right to vote is one of the things that differentiates a free country like the United States from a less than free country like North Korea.

Apathy is not the only reason many students will be staying home on this election day. The leading pair of candidates are underwhelming to say the least. As of April 6, 2016, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appear to be headed for the final election. Bernie Sanders isn’t too far behind, but it seems unlikely that he would receive the Democratic nomination. Both Trump and Clinton worry voters for multiple reasons.

Critics of Hillary Clinton believe that she is a criminal. They cite her recent email scandal, which is currently under criminal investigation by the FBI, and her seemingly mysterious actions regarding the Benghazi incident. Even ignoring the more controversial arguments against her, it can be easily proven that over the years, Hillary has flip-flopped on several key issues. For example, just 10 years ago, Hillary opposed same sex marriage and voted for the Iraq war. Today she now proudly stands with the law that has spread marriage equality, and wants troops to be sent home. While this may just be a natural progression of opinion, it does seem slightly suspicious that Hilary’s votes always appear to align with the popular opinion.

Donald Trump, is… well… Donald Trump. A billionaire that most students fail to relate to and some find utterly offensive. This viewpoint aside, Trump does have an aggressive nature. He is often quoted at rallies saying that he wants to punch protesters and has advocated for war crimes against the families of terrorists. Regardless of this, he does have a distinct lack of political experience; especially where foreign policy is concerned. All of this combined with his history as a reality television star make him a poor presidential candidate in the eyes of many.

This poses a conundrum. Why vote if none of the candidates are desirable? Luckily, there is still a way to vote even for those who are thoroughly disappointed with the frontrunners. A blank vote, also called a protest vote, is when the voter goes to their polling place and purposely places a vote in which no candidate receives the vote. Usually, a ballot will have an option for a blank vote, but if not, a vote written in for a fictional character will act in the same way. Voting for a character makes for a less than stern statement, but achieves the same goal. Most ignore the blank vote, as the difference between casting a blank vote and abstaining seems small. In fact, the difference is one of night and day.

Casting a blank vote demonstrates a clear disapproval of the current political landscape while refusing to vote displays a strong contentment with the current system. By casting a blank vote, the voter is actively stating that it is worth their time and effort to state that the candidates running, and by extension the politics leading to their candidacy, are unacceptable.

By the same logic, choosing to abstain implies that the voter is so content with the current system that it is not worth their time to vote. Some choose to abstain as a form of protest voting, but this is ineffective. Such a large number of citizens abstain out of apathy that protest abstention is commonly confused with apathy. In this way, the blank vote allows for everyone to vote, even those who are not willing to vote for any of the candidates.

While the American voting system is better than some others, one change must be made to it. Under the current voting system, the blank vote is a powerful metaphor, but does not carry any real power. A law should be passed so that if a certain percentage of voters choose the blank vote, the candidates will be thrown out and new candidates proposed. This system has been used effectively in several other countries around the world, and would greatly improve the American voting system.

As an American, you should vote. Many citizens in countries around the world are never able to participate in such a democratic system. As a result of this, and the existence of the blank vote, there are very few reasons to ignore election day. Remember, New York’s primary is April 19. If you’re registered, get out and vote!

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