There seems to be a lot of confusion and disagreement over this issue, I have seen this come up again and again. I have thought of a way to approach this that might help people understand better the moral issues involved.
There are really two kinds of votes, what I call an “effective” vote and a “protest” vote. Actually the term “protest vote” has been used before, I didn’t make that up. That is what you do when you vote for a candidate who has no chance to win, because you feel that the viable candidates are all equally bad. In presidential elections, voting for the Constitution Party candidate or the Libertarian candidate is a protest vote. You know this person is not going to be sitting in the Oval Office next year, by any chance; but you hope that if enough people vote with you for that candidate, it will be reflected in the outcomes, and commentators will say “Gee a lot of people voted for the XXX candidate this time” and that the people in positions of power will recognize that there is support for the platform of the XXX party, and that they need to respond to the views of that part of the electorate. It is all about the secondary results.
An effective vote, on the other hand, is one that can actually help to shape the final outcome of the election. If you live in a swing state such as Ohio or Virginia, your vote will actually help determine who is sworn in as president next year.
So the first thing to ask yourself is, granted that either Obama or Romney is going to win, which one is preferable? If you are a Catholic who takes your faith seriously, that should be an easy question to answer. We can debate all day about how sincere Romney was about adopting the pro-life position, but even if it was adopted for political expediency, his presidency would certainly not be devoted to aggressively promoting abortion the way president Obama has done.
If you genuinely believe that neither candidate is significantly better than the other, then you can legitimately decide to cast a protest vote. In the present situation, a protest vote is immoral in my opinion, because it increases the chances that Obama will win, thus gaining immense power to continue his attack on the churches, on freedom of conscience, and indeed on many of the institutions of civil society that stand in the way of the implementation of his agenda.
Some people seem to think that it would be immoral to vote for a candidate unless that person is 100% morally and ideologically pure. If you take that attitude, then you are effectively giving up on your civic duties, because you won’t be voting very often. People are imperfect and politicians are imperfect. We need to try to bring about the best possible outcome in any given situation. The best outcome is not necessarily a perfect outcome, in fact most of the time it won’t be. That doesn’t absolve us of our obligation to participate in the process.