"I can't vote for Donald Trump and I can't vote for Hillary Clinton. It breaks my heart. This is my first time in my adult life I'm confronted with this dilemma."
Yesterday on MSNBC, Jeb Bush explained his decision to abstain from voting for either of the major party candidates in 2016: "The simple fact is there's a threshold past which anybody that steps into the Oval Office must go past. And I don't think either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump pass that threshold. In terms of temperament, character, trust worthiness, integrity. So what do you do? I mean if you believe, like I do, the presidency is sacred ground and you want a president that uphold the Constitution and I don't believe that either one of the candidates fulfills that primary kind of objective, uh, I can't vote for either one of them."
Pressed by interviewer Nicolle Wallace, he stood firm: "Yeah. I can't do it. I can't do it….Neither for me. And you're not going to get me to change that."
While the former Florida governor and presidential wannabe has said repeatedly that he respects people who feel the need to make a different choice in November, he's the one who has got the right end of the stick here.
As I note in my Reason cover story against voting, the social cost of an individual refraining from voting is very low: Even someone as high-profile as Jeb opting out of major party voting is wildly, spectacularly, insanely unlikely to create a situation that threatens the stability of our form of government or triggers a cascade that undermines the legitimacy of the election. And even as a non-voter (perhaps especially as a non-voter), Bush is pretty clearly discharging any responsibility that might exist to participate in civic life far more thoroughly than the little old lady to votes in every election but otherwise spends all her time doing cross stitch.
Meanwhile, insisting that Bush vote in this election imposes a high moral cost on him: Jeb has a strong view about the qualifications for the presidency—something he describes as "sacred"—and asking him to vote for Trump or Clinton is asking him to violate those principles and dirty his hands for no appreciable gain.* In a season where more people than ever are holding their noses and pulling the lever for someone who they don't think would be a good president, why are we treating Bush like a villain for having principles and sticking to them?
It's not logically consistent to tell a non-voting Bush that it's his fault if the wrong guy wins and does bad things, yet exempt people who vote for one of the two major party candidates from blame when the winner (predictably) does bad things.
As a sidenote: Bush did leave the door open for a third-party vote: "There's other people running. There's the libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld. I don't know. they don't get a lot of airtime yet."
Meanwhile, Sen. Ben Sasse is expressing similar qualms over at Medium, although in more opaque language.
* Reminder: Bush's vote almost certainly will not determine the outcome of the election. Even in the drama of Bush v. Gore, one additional vote in Florida would not have altered the outcome of the election:
In all of American history, a single vote has never determined the outcome of a presidential election. And there are precious few examples of any other elections decided by a single vote. A 2001 National Bureau of Economic Research paper by economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter looked at 56,613 contested congressional and state legislative races dating back to 1898. Of the 40,000 state legislative elections they examined, encompassing about 1 billion votes cast, only seven were decided by a single vote (two were tied). A 1910 Buffalo contest was the lone single-vote victory in a century's worth of congressional races. In four of the 10 ultra-close campaigns flagged in the paper, further research by the authors turned up evidence that subsequent recounts unearthed margins larger than the official record initially suggested.
The numbers just get more ridiculous from there. In a 2012 Economic Inquiry article, Columbia University political scientist Andrew Gelman, statistician Nate Silver, and University of California, Berkeley, economist Aaron Edlin use poll results from the 2008 election cycle to calculate that the chance of a randomly selected vote determining the outcome of a presidential election is about one in 60 million. In a couple of key states, the chance that a random vote will be decisive creeps closer to one in 10 million, which drags voters into the dubious company of people gunning for the Mega-Lotto jackpot.