ASK FATHER: I don’t like Trump or Biden. Can I opt out and not vote at all?

From a reader…


I don’t like either Trump or Biden. I wish we had better candidates. I don’t even want to vote, but I see that this is an important election. So many things depend on it. What does the Church say about this? Do I have to vote or can I opt out?

Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country….

First, it puzzles me as to why people would vote for a candidate because he is “likeable”.     With a nod to the Bard, one may smile and smile and be a villain.  At least I am sure it may be so in Washington.   I hear this sometimes, especially from women.  They don’t “like” how Trump talks or tweets, etc.  They don’t “like” his style.  They are “put off” by his manner.  I consider that to be shallow.  I get it, but it is hardly the basis of a thoughtful choice in voting.

I’ll tell you what I don’t like: Catholics who say they are Catholic and then promote or excuse abortion, or relegate abortion to one among a list of other things.  Personally, I cannot vote for some who promotes the intrinsic grave evil of abortion.  I don’t think that any Catholic having a well-formed conscience can vote for a candidate who promotes abortion.  It is a lie that other issues are as important as abortion.  Abortion is the pre-eminent life issue.

Voting for a pro-abortion candidate, because he is pro-abortion is, I think, cooperation in evil.  It is not such close cooperation that you incur an excommunication, but it is still wrong.

Some might wonder, “What if ALL the candidates are pro-abortion”?   Depending on the gravity of the election, you then can chose the best among the candidates despite the abortion stance.

I think that if you opt out of what you understand to be an important election, you have violated your moral obligation to participate in the common good by exercising your right to vote.

And there is more to this election than the presidential race.  There are Senate races and local races and issues.  Remember that all politics are local.  You live in a community and you have the ability to contribute to the common good.

We have to look at the issues and candidates which are at question and ponder them through the lens of our Catholic Faith.  Then we should vote using a well-formed conscience, a conscience formed in light of the Church’s Magisterium and a solid grasp of the natural law.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. SuperTrad says:

    Another point that gets under my skin the the people who say “vote for a third party because they are better candidates”. Regardless of whether or not that’s true, a third party vote has never even come close to winning. Voting for a third party instead of pro life Trump does nothing except reduce the number of votes he gets, which helps abortion Biden win. The same thing happened when Clinton got in, he might not have won if the third party wasn’t there and we would be MUCH better off on a lot of fronts including abortion.

  2. hwriggles4 says:

    Fr. Z:

    For what it’s worth:

    The last few weeks I have mentioned to a few people to think about the times you have had a boss who you didn’t like his or her personality, but they were able to accomplish goals and work productively for the good of the company and the employees. Most of us who have spent much of our adult lives in 9 to 5 careers have experienced this scenario a few times, and have adapted. What is happening nine days from now, my opinion is vote for the lesser of the two evils, and I think those reading this can figure out who is the lesser of the two evils.

    Another thing I have said particularly to those who are over 60 – today’s Democratic party is much different than the Democratic party of 25 to 60 years ago. It would not be surprised if Sam Nunn, Lloyd Bentsen, Tip O’Neill, Bob Casey Sr., John Kennedy, and Zell Miller are turning over in their graves right now.

  3. The Egyptian says:

    but but Father, what about the “seamless garment”
    Pastor of my youth told us in class that we were required to vote for Teddy Kennedy ,he is Catholic and if we elect him and then pray hard enough he will do right and stop abortion, Me being my usual obnoxious 18 year old self and not caring about my grade in religion class responded that I’d sooner vote for Satan, Lets just say that father was not amused, the eruption was epic. And I still stand by the remark

  4. Ken Wright says:

    What I’ve seen suggested is that if people have decided not to vote in the presidential race (or voted for a third party candidate) then they should vote for the Republican candidate in the House and Senate races – a Republican congress would balance out a Biden presidency if he does win.
    As Father Zuhlsdorf commented, there are lots of lower, local things to vote for as well.

  5. DavidJ says:

    Personally, I voted for Brian Carroll of the American Solidarity Party. He’s the only candidate I could vote for without the feeling that I would need to run to the confessional afterwards.

  6. Padre Pio Devotee says:

    All politics are local! If you don’t like the presidential race, then write in somebody else or vote for a 3rd party which most aligns with one’s beliefs.
    The COVID-1984 situation shows just how important and how powerful local officials are on both the state (mayors, governors, councilmen) and federal level. One can state can be free and roaming and the next state can be locked down in perpetuity.
    Do NOT skip the election due to just one race.

  7. Chrisc says:

    People are welcome to vote third party. I think some times the difference between the parties is so small that it may be justified. I don’t see how one can think that about this election. One party is actively anti-life, anti-religion, anti-constitution, anti-free speech, and is fine with burning down cities. The other party is led by someone rude, who follows the law, and resisted the urge for a federal power grab during a pandemic.

  8. tho says:

    How anyone can gloss over such a powerful point as the sanctity of human life is beyond me. The sanctity of life underlies what a decent country strives for.
    Think about the willfulness of most democrats, that, they approve the killing of a baby that is born alive. Trump loves our country, and he is the most pro life President in our history. Were not asking you to have cocktails with him, or invite him over for the holidays, were asking you to save human lives.

  9. Michael says:

    If Biden is rabidly pro-abortion (he is), and if Trump is not completely pro-life (he supports abortion in cases of rape, incest, health of mother), and if both candidates support homosexual “marriage” (they do), then even if one votes for “the lesser of two evils”, does it stand to reason that one is still voting for evil?

  10. Rachel says:

    As you noted, people should remember that even if they don’t want to vote for a president, there are important races down ballot. It matters a great deal who has control in the House, the Senate, and the state legislatures, who the judges are (if you elect judges in your state), and which state propositions get passed.

  11. Markus says:

    Elections are not about “feelings.” They are not about self-interest. We are all into this together. It is apparent that Caesar was not a “good” guy and had a “nice” personality, yet Christ used him and his empire in His plan.

  12. rwj says:

    I am confused about those who support 3rd parties for moral reasons… why vote for someone who has no intention to win the office they seek- its a vanity campaign. If these candidates really cared, they might set an achievable goal and work toward it.

    Somebody you don’t like will be president. What if so many pro life Christians split their votes among all their conscience-soothing fringe candidates that only pro-abortion candidates who happily unite in the DNC were elected.

  13. bookworm says:

    Last time around I did not vote for either Trump or Hillary (I wrote in a third party candidate) for two reasons: I did not trust either of them and I live in a blue state (IL) whose electoral votes were in the bag for Hillary anyway. This time, however, I voted (early) FOR him; even if the electoral vote is not in doubt here I wanted to affirmitavely support him. If you live in one of the definitely red or blue states that is not crucial to a Trump victory, then you could I suppose vote third party or write in without fear of materially contributing to his potential defeat. If you live in one of the critical states such as FL, PA, WI, etc., that’s another story…

  14. Semper Gumby says:

    Ken Wright: The catch with that option is the difference between SCOTUS nominees, Executive appointees, Executive orders, SecDef and SecState, etc. appointed by a Trump administration and a Biden-Harris administration.

  15. Deborah Y says:

    Abortion is the preeminent issue. Imagine saying “I might disagree with Hitler on the whole killing the Jews thing, but he does have some good ideas on the economy.” The Dems proud state they want taxpayer funded, unrestricted abortion.

    And as someone in an interracial marriage with bi-racial children the potential harm from identity politics and critical race theory being pushed by the left are frightening. Solve et Coagula

    Policy truly is more important than personality.

  16. WVC says:

    There’s the old joke:

    After torrential downpour for days, flooding hits a Midwestern town. Evacuation orders are issued, but some residents are unable to leave in time and are trapped in their homes. A rescue boat is sent out to save folks, but one old lady refuses the boat. “I trust in God to save me. I know He will provide all I need.”

    The flood waters continue to rise. The boats go out for a second run. This time, the water is all the way up to the second story, but calling out from her window the old lady once again declines rescue. “I put my trust in the Lord. He will save me.” Exasperated, the boat crew goes to search for other stranded citizens.

    The rain continues. The flood waters rise even more. This time a helicopter is sent out to save anyone still left in the town. The helicopter spots an old lady standing on her roof and lowers down a ladder, calling to her from the megaphone to grab on because it’s her last chance for rescue. Shaking her head resolutely the old lady says, “I put my trust in the Lord. He will save me. I just know it.” With the winds picking up and the helicopter running low on fuel, the rescue crew gives up and returns to base.

    The rain continues. The flood waters rise. The old lady drowns.

    In Heaven, the old lady finally makes it to the front of the line to enter in through the pearly gates. However, she gives St. Peter a cross look and says, “I don’t understand. I put my faith in God. Why didn’t He save me?”

    St. Peter glances at his clipboard, checks his notes, and then shakes his head. “Look, lady, we sent two boats and a helicopter. What else were you expecting?”

    . . .

    For folks voting Third Party or refraining from voting Trump, you sure as heck better keep any and all complains to your self if Biden wins. If the Supreme Court gets stacked, you better not complain. If mass Amnesty suddenly creates 30 million new Democrat voters, hold your tongue. If the attack on the police continues to erode law & order across the country, you don’t get to cry foul. If the Green New Deal creates rolling blackouts in your community, destroys jobs for your children, and increases your overall energy bill by a hundred fold, that’s a cost you have to bear in humility. If mandatory vaccines and contact trackers are forced on you, that’s a reality you accept willingly. If transgender bathrooms are mandated in every Catholic Church, you don’t get to object. If the Communist Revolution succeeds and homeschooling is outlawed and “critical race theory” and “gender-affirming theory” and “LGBTQ+ inclusive theory” is forced down your children’s and grandchildren’s throats day after day, then understand that, whether it would have made a difference or not you refrained from doing your part to stop it.

    But at least you can take comfort in knowing you didn’t vote for someone who wasn’t “nice” or didn’t have the character traits you expect from your ideal Presidential candidate. That gets to be your solace.

    It’s a little like pacifists who deplore violence but enjoy the safety and security provided them by the sacrifices made by military service members. If you can’t bring yourself to do the dirty work you expect others to do on your behalf – you sure don’t get any right to complain about any of the outcomes. At least that’s how I see it.

  17. JonPatrick says:

    As to the lesser of 2 evils we have that situation here in Maine where Susan Collins, a long time RINO who has generally been pro abortion with a 70% rating from Planned Parenthood, is being opposed by a liberal Democrat who is even more pro abortion and ticks all the extreme left boxes. In this case it is important to keep the Senate in Republican hands as a counter to Harris/Biden* if they win, and to prevent an impeachment conviction of Trump should he win. So I will hold my nose and vote for Collins, along with Trump of course.

    * – Harris/Biden because Biden will likely step down shortly after the inauguration and Harris will be the President at least in name. Who will be the real president behind the scenes we do not know.

  18. B says:

    A morally valid option for the voter is to write in a candidate. He/she is NOT obligated to have to pick the democratic or republican nominee.

  19. gouletdrg says:

    I have six options on my ballot for POTUS. Outside the two put in by two of the three parties currently in Congress, there is one who is 100% pro-life. From the Solidarity Party. It is a myth that voting for third party is an advantage/disadvantage for a Republican/Democrat candidate. It is a myth that it is a throw away vote. You have the freedom to vote for whom you wish. The state I grew up in has had many third party/write in candidates who took the office of Governor, Senate, House, or other position and moved up.
    We have the right to vote. I have been supporting and defended everyone’s right to vote for going on 29 years. Fr. Z, your answer is one of the best out there for this question.

  20. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If you like a third party’s platform, you need to do what successful third parties around the world do: you work to win lower offices for your party, building credibility and political power from the grassroots. And then, you can launch a credible takeover of higher offices, and eventually become one of the main two parties.

    And of course this means that you yourself will have to do a lot of hard local level work, instead of sitting back and priding yourself on voting for a presidential candidate whom nobody else has heard of.

  21. Ave Maria says:

    There are many ‘c’atholics, including religious, who will vote for the demoncrat party candidates. I spoke to a cousin yesterday who is a very giving person and active in the ‘Just Faith’ program for some years. She believes all the negatives about Mr. Trump. She also believes all the lies of the scamdemic. She will vote demoncrat. And she is a good person but in so may parishes, there are excuses to be able to vote for the marxist agenda. The ‘church’ as a whole has let the faithful down when especially clergy are wishy washy or openly in favor of the pro-abortion, pro-gay agendas. They do not see that Mr. Trump is standing in the way of the OWO takeover.

  22. Polonia says:

    Planning on doing the same. Did you have to write him in on the ballot?

  23. SimonK says:

    Does it matter whether one is in a “safe state” or a “swing state”? I think, if one lives in California, for example, it doesn’t matter who one votes for, Biden is going to win California anyway – so, if one prefers some third party candidate, why not choose to vote for that third party candidate? (I’ve heard good things about Brian Carroll, the American Solidarity Party’s candidate, who is a write-in in most states – of course he is not going to win, but people voting for him are not expecting him to, they are trying to use their vote to send a message.)

    On the other hand, if you live in Pennsylvania – a state which many are saying is going to decide the election – well, a vote for a third party in Pennsylvania is “throwing your vote away” in a sense in which it is not in California.

  24. WVC says:

    @SimonK – I wouldn’t discount the symbolic importance of the Popular Vote, nor would I dismiss how significant it would be if California was a lot closer than folks expected. I mean, this is Beverly Hills:

    It just seems like a really bad time for so many folks to suddenly decide they want to do “Third Party” experiments. Another earnest question – did folks vote Third Party when Mitt Romney was running? Or John McCain?

    [Two words… Ross Perot.]

  25. WVC says:

    Some counterpoint to all the anti-Trump stuff folks have been reading:

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