’Twas the Nightmare Before Election Day


…and all through the House, the down-ballot candidates were about to be trounced.

One of my good friends told me last week that she wasn’t planning to vote. “I’m too lazy, it isn’t worth it,” she said. This shook me in a way that I have not experienced in a long time.

For as long as I can remember, my mother has taken my sister and me along to the polls on Election Day each year. We were excited to help push the buttons and to get the “I Voted” stickers, but she was excited to instill the importance of civic duty in our young, developing minds. Every year, she told us that voting is the most important thing we can do as women—she recalled her grandmother, who began her life unable to vote because of her gender, and reminded us that people fought for our democracy and people fought for women’s suffrage in particular. My mother taught me that the best way to honor those who fought for our rights is to exercise them—so I went with her each year, and I registered to vote on the day after my eighteenth birthday.

In April, I wrote a piece titled, “The Devolution of 2016, and why we all need to take a breather.” I cited our tradition of peaceful transition of power as the reason that “it’s all going to be okay.” Sadly, we have come to a point where a major-party candidate is threatening that tradition, claiming that American elections are capable of being rigged. It seems that the nation’s devolution into negativity has not stopped—instead, the unlikable candidates that plague this election have perpetuated it.

Years after my time in the voting booth with my mother, I watched her cry over her vote. After the second presidential debate, she was so disheartened with all of the candidates listed on the ballot that she doubted whether she could vote in this election. For the first time since she turned eighteen, she is facing the dilemma of whether she can in good conscience vote for one of the candidates with whom we are presented.

It seems that this is not uncommon. Gallup reported earlier this fall that only sixty-nine percent of American adults reported that they were “definitely” planning to vote in the presidential election; this is the lowest of all years Gallup has measured it (they began in 2000). While this is disheartening, it shouldn’t be surprising. According to RealClearPolitics, more than 61 percent of Americans view Donald Trump unfavorably, and more than 53 percent view Hillary Clinton unfavorably. America is very unhappy with the results of this year’s primary elections, which has encouraged the rise of third-party candidates Gary Johnson (a Libertarian), Jill Stein (of the Green Party), and Evan McMullin (a constitutional conservative who is leading the polls in his home state of Utah), although none of them claim that it would be possible for them to win the presidency in the Electoral College.

These statistics are discouraging enough without considering the other dangers these candidates have imposed on the nation. This election is in many ways unprecedented—our first female major-party nominee is heading the Democratic ticket, something many have looked forward to, and the Republican nominee is perhaps the first candidate who can truly claim that he has never intended to be a career politician, an ideal that many have advocated for years as well.

Rather than these “firsts,” or the policy preferences of the candidates, dominating the news cycle, the character defects, poor decisions, and uncovered secrets of the candidates have taken over instead.

Earlier in October, tapes were released of Donald Trump bragging about accosting women sexually. When Republicans denounced him in the wake of this new information, Trump defiantly responded, calling these GOP leaders “self-righteous hypocrites” and attacking Senator John McCain and Speaker Paul Ryan on Twitter. This is not the response of an individual with the temperament and self-awareness to lead our nation.

Shortly thereafter, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails that were circulated among Hillary Clinton’s campaign team, in which a number of inconsistencies is revealed. The leak references Hillary saying that her “dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders;” this stands in stark contrast to the protectionist trade policy she has advocated during this campaign. The emails also discuss women working for the Clinton Foundation being paid less, on average, than their male counterparts—despite the gender pay gap being one of the tenets of Clinton’s campaign. For a candidate beset with the public’s concerns about secrecy and dishonesty, these emails only fuel many Americans’ belief that she is a corrupt politician and cannot be trusted to run the country.

Finally, Donald Trump has continually claimed that the American electoral system is rigged against him. When asked about these claims in the final debate last week, the nominee declared, “I’ll tell you at the time, I’ll keep you in suspense.” Later statements on the campaign trail reported that he will accept the election’s results if he wins. This unwillingness to concede in the event of electoral loss sets a dangerous precedent that could undermine this country’s 300 year-old tradition of a peaceful transition of power.

The problem with the way these candidates have dampened enthusiasm for American elections is that the largest turnout tends to occur in presidential election years. These are the years when enthusiasm is supposed to run highest. However, it is the down-ballot candidates—the governors, town clerks, the Congress—whose races will suffer if their party base does not turn out to vote. If you are a Republican disaffected with Trump, or a Democrat disaffected with Hillary, I urge you to go to the polls on Election Day or send in your absentee ballot. Do not let the disappointing figures at the top of the ticket dissuade you from exercising your constitutional rights. Make your voice heard at all the levels you can, whether that means checking the box of a candidate you do not wholly agree with or writing in someone else—or leaving the presidential field blank entirely. But please, do vote. Do participate in the incredible institution that is the American democratic system. Do everything in your power to encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to vote as well. After all, the best way you can honor those who fought for our rights is to exercise them.

Emily Hall (emilyhall@college.harvard.edu) looks forward to waking up on November 9th.