Lessons About Our Democratic Republic

Our Democratic Republic

A canvassing board member showing a disputed ballot to an election observer at the Broward County “hanging chad” recount in the 2000 election. (Rhoma Wise—AFP/Getty Images)

There are lessons we can take away from the 2016 National Presidential Elections about our American Democratic Republic. First, every vote and every no vote counts in the General Election. The Primary Elections are the opportunities to vote for the candidate who is your first choice. If your candidate wins and becomes your party’s nominee, you have a second chance to get your candidate elected as President of the United States.

Second, if your candidate fails to win the primaries and is not the nominee going into the General Elections, accept your party’s candidate and work to get that nominee elected.

If we have learned nothing else from the 2016 elections, it should be every vote counts and every “no” vote benefits the candidate or invested party who depends on your decision to sit on the sidelines and simply watch the outcome.

Third, if your candidate is not your party’s nominee and you choose to still vote for your first candidate in the General Election for any reason, then, you must also accept the political reality that your vote then becomes more supportive of the opposing party and reduces your party’s chances of winning the White House.

And, fourth, if you choose not to vote in the General Election, you have handed your vote to the opposing party.

These may be harsh and difficult lessons to learn in the aftermath of one of the nation’s closest contested elections. It is a lesson that was repeated and ended with nearly the same results.

In 2000, Democratic candidate Al Gore virtually tied with George W. Bush, the Republican opponent. Vice President Gore ran his campaign as the heir apparent to President Bill Clinton. He campaigned on a promise to protect the environment and continue the progress of building a strong economy achieved by the Clinton domestic economic policies. In the waning days of the election, the campaigns were too close to call. Gore’s victory was not assured and ultimately the balance of the election hung on a recount in the swing state of Florida.

A recount was still too close to call and eventually one month after the November 7, 2000, election the decision rested in the hands of the Republican dominated United States Supreme Court. It was further determined Texas Governor George W. Bush received 537 more votes in Florida than Vice President Gore.

16 years later, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton squared off against political upstart Donald John Trump, a reality television star and billionaire property development magnate. In the final weeks of their campaigns, Clinton’s lead over Trump narrowed right up to election night with the vote too close to call. While Florida was again in play for both candidates, the unsuspecting “Blue States” of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania swung “Red” and shifted the count of the real electors to Trump.

The factor that really mattered was the Electoral College. The fate of the election no longer rested with the popular votes across the country. The final decision in 2016 was in the hands of that peculiar process put in place by the profoundly confusing founders of this Democratic Republic. The people may vote but the Electoral College decides the winner.

This twist in the elections heightens the importance and value of votes that go to third party candidates and defeated primary election candidates. The ultimate threat to this Democratic Republic is the defectors who opt not to participate; who decide not to vote. They undermine the intent, purpose, and process that proclaim a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Failure to vote always serves your opposing party extremely well.

The ability to dissuade or discourage people from voting is the ultimate victory for the other side. A decision to go ahead and cast your vote for a candidate who failed to win your party’s nomination is a gift to the opposing party.

If we have learned nothing else from the 2016 elections, it should be every vote counts and every “no” vote benefits the candidate or invested party who depends on your decision to sit on the sidelines and simply watch the outcome.

Rev. Dr. Art Cribbs

About Art Cribbs

The Rev. Dr. Art Cribbs is the executive director of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, a statewide faith-based organization, that advocates for workers and immigrant rights, quality education, and health care.