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Nadworny: Protest Vote

The very first time I voted for President of the United States, I proudly lodged a protest vote. And in my long career of voting, it’s the one and only vote I truly regret casting.

The year was 1980.

Jimmy Carter was president. I remember how glad I’d been when he beat Gerald Ford. We cheered his focus on human rights, his leadership in forging the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement and his investments in alternative energy.

Then, thanks to an Arab oil embargo we entered into a period of “Stagflation” where it seemed the entire economy was tanking. We had hostages stuck in Iran and a botched rescue attempt behind us. And as Election Day approached, it became clear he was losing to Ronald Reagan. The real crux was that I felt Carter was just too moderate for me.

Still, there was no way I could vote for Reagan. Things like the Iran Contra affair and economic inequality would turn out to be his legacy.

Third candidate John Anderson was also running. But if I wasn’t voting for the centrist Carter, I wasn’t voting for the centrist Anderson either.

So instead I cast my vote for Barry Commoner - a professor and one of the founders of the modern environmental movement. His platform was based on environmentalism, alternative energy, and growing the economy through big investments in both. He would’ve felt right at home today.

My protest vote was pure: I was voting for the “right” person even if he had no chance of winning. I felt virtuous leaving the voting both. But later, I regretted it.

That was partly because it helped Jimmy Carter lose Vermont - and later I saw Carter for the person he clearly is. In retirement, he’s worked tirelessly to advance human rights, conducting peace negotiations, observing elections and working toward disease eradication. Even while battling cancer he’s still working to make the world a better place. And the more we learn that among our past presidents, there were egotists, narcissists and even an occasional crook - the better Carter looks.

When I had the chance to vote for someone who might have been the best, most moral human being we’ve ever had in the White House, I blew it.

By using my vote in a showy protest, I basically threw it away.  And that means I’m the one who really lost with that vote, not Jimmy Carter.

Rich Nadworny is a designer who resides in Burlington and Stockholm.
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