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The Undecided Voter

In the buildup to the 2000 presidential election (and the 2004 election — and I expect in the 2008 election) the “undecided voter” was ill-used as an emblem of Amercans’ disconnection from both politics and civil society. The partisans on both sides were so adamant both about their candidates and about the stakes of the election that anyone who had not yet taken sides was viewed as somehow morally deficient; and the media was so focused on “the game” — on polls and on strategies and on being the first to predict the outcome — that “undecided voters” who made such predictions difficult were treated as the enemy of the process rather than as legitimate participants. In all cases it was presumed that the “inability to decide”, the lack of commitment to one party or candidate, represented some character flaw, an apathy or a spinelessness or a paucity of moral vision.

I was one of those undecided voters; but the decision I was avoiding was not between the two candidates but whether or not I could vote for either with a clear conscience. I wrote this letter to counter the presumption that indecision was equivalent to moral fault. It was submitted to the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle and published by the Mercury News just before the election. It was, in fact, awarded their ‘Silver Pen’ for outstanding letters. I found that amusing because I thought it was one of my weaker and lighter efforts.

For another (later) take on the Undecided Voter, see Undecided Voter (again)

1 November 2000

Recent letters and columns have treated undecided voters as pariahs, either too stupid or too lazy to figure out what they want or what the country needs. The letters and columns are not only disrespectful, they are wrong. Undecided voters know what they want and what the country needs; they just can’t find it in any of the candidates. They are not holding out waiting for gotchas or flourishes. They are not even waiting for a white knight to ride in and save the day. They are merely putting off an unpleasant chore, hoping against hope that one of the candidates will finally make a mistake and give them some clue as to which version of the truth about themselves and about their parties they actually believe.

And is that so bad? If everyone declared themselves “undecided” right up until election day, the candidates would be forced to keep talking to them instead of writing them off as either a “safe vote” or a “lost cause”.

© Copyright 2000, 2005, Augustus P. Lowell

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