Tomorrow is Primary Day here in New York.
There is no doubt that the political system in our state is deeply dysfunctional. For virtually everyone living in the City of New York, and in many gerrymandered districts outside of the City, there is no functioning two-party system. Instead, the results of the primary is tantamount to election to office, and nobody but a registered member of that party may participate. Just to give you an idea of how that works in practice, it is unusual for more than 20,000 people to vote in primary elections for offices like State Senate or Assembly. An alarming number of state legislators and Congressional representatives run for re-election without any opposition. As a result, unsurprisingly, the re-election rate for members of the New York Legislature is well over 90% — most of our state legislators leave office only by dying or being convicted of a crime.
Nevertheless, it is vitally important that people of principle get involved in electoral politics, at the very least by voting, but also by running for office. Otherwise, we will only continue to get the same results that we have been seeing in the past few years.
In that regard, it is essential that we form our consciences to vote as Catholics — we must bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the teachings of His Church, into the voting booth.
Our bishops have provided us with guidance in this regard. The Bishops of the United States have published several useful documents on voting, and our New York State Bishops have also issued a valuable statement on elections. Here are a few pertinent excerpts:
“The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.” (United States Bishops, Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship 28)
“Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care… But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community.“ (United States Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life 23)
“The inalienable right to life of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all.” (New York State Bishops, Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty)
“There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.” (Faithful Citizenship 35)
“When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.” (Faithful Citizenship 36)
“The right to life is the right through which all others flow. To the extent candidates reject this fundamental right by supporting an objective evil, such as legal abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, Catholics should consider them less acceptable for public office.” (Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty)
These statements, and other resources for voting, are available on the Family Life/Respect Life Office website.
We must also remember that our voting decision has serious consequences, not all of which are political. As the Bishops note, in Faithful Citizenship:
It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation. Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials affect their spiritual well-being…
Our obligation as disciples of Christ is clear — we must be His followers in our everyday lives, and we must be his followers when we are in the voting booth.