Voting My Conscience on Civil Liberties

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

As someone who cares more about social issues than economic policy, I am conflicted about the 2016 presidential election. Being a millennial and a student, I am deeply concerned about free speech, electronic privacy, and government transparency. However, the histories and platforms of the Democratic and Republican candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are hostile to these civil liberties. Libertarian Gary Johnson fares well, but in reality a vote for him is a throwaway vote. Nevertheless, I still wish to vote my conscience.

On free expression, Clinton is no friend. As First Lady, she supported the 1996 Communications Decency Act and the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, which were both invalidated by the Supreme Court for violating the First Amendment. As Senator, she co-sponsored a 2005 bill prohibiting flag burning, a form of speech that the Supreme Court has ruled to be protected by the First Amendment. During the October 2015 Benghazi hearings, she blamed the murdered journalists of Charlie Hebdo for caricaturing Mohammed and sparking violence that led to their own deaths, a blatant example of victim blaming and scapegoating freedom of the press. In July 2016, Clinton called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and limit speech in the form of political expenditure and media—an unprecedented act that would repeal part of the Bill of Rights.

On electronic privacy, Clinton has proven herself an enemy through her words and record. She is one of the biggest supporters of the American surveillance apparatus. As Senator, she voted for the 2001 PATRIOT Act and its reauthorization. During the 2008 presidential run, her stance was more pro-surveillance than Barack Obama’s. In the wake of terror attacks in December 2015, she called for an “intelligence surge” and increased surveillance of social media. After the Brussels attack in March, she again called for tougher surveillance, increased information sharing between the US and Europe, and a greater police presence. Finally, on encryption, Clinton has been hostile and hypocritical. In December, she proposed a “Manhattan-like project” to partner law enforcement and tech companies in order to break into encrypted communications, yet her campaign started using the encrypted app Signal in September.

On transparency, Clinton is one of the most disliked and untrustworthy candidates in recent history. She has argued that whistleblower Edward Snowden is a criminal who should return to the US and face an inherently unfair trial. Yet she has tried to maintain an aura of privacy and secrecy around herself. From her health conditions to political positions to personal communications, Clinton is synonymous with opacity. Only with the recent WikiLeaks revelations have the American people learned more about her true self. If candidate Clinton is so secretive and opaque, then we should not expect transparency after she becomes president.

Trump has no public service record, but his words during the 2016 campaign are enough to show a profound hatred of civil liberties. On free speech, Trump has criticized Citizens United, called for using libel laws to punish journalists who report on him and supported violence against protesters at rallies. On electronic privacy, he supports the NSA’s bulk warrantless surveillance programs and called for shutting down parts of the Internet to fight terrorism. On transparency, Trump continues to conceal information from the public, including years of tax returns and archived Apprentice tapes. A Trump presidency would be scarier to a civil libertarian because he has the temperament to purposefully disregard the Constitution and become a dictator.

Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, is a staunch civil libertarian. His party platform and record as governor show his genuine belief in free speech, privacy, and transparency. He and running mate Bill Weld are also free of scandals and known for their honesty and integrity. They are running a polite and authentic campaign. Johnson is obviously the best candidate for me.

The only problem is that I am registered to vote in Pennsylvania, which is somewhat of a battleground state. I acknowledge that Johnson cannot win my state, that Clinton is the lesser of two evils, and that third party voters could potentially give the election to Trump. However, if third-party voters comprise just 5 percent of the popular vote, then that third party will achieve major party status and obtain tens of millions of dollars in public funding.

I am simply unable to vote for Clinton due to her horrible record on issues and principles that I hold dear. I am not only against Clinton’s and Trump’s authoritarian positions but also for Johnson’s support of freedom and peace. Although the consequentialist argument is powerful, the civil libertarian in me will vote my conscience.

Featured image courtesy of The Libertarian Republic.


  1. Have you considered vote-swapping, e.g. MakeMineCount? Johnson only needs 5% nationally, not in Pennsylvania, so swapping with a Clinton supporter in an uncontested state is just as good for the Libertarians without increasing Clinton’s vote share or risking Trump.

    (And yes, it’s legal.)

    • You had me interested in your facts, details, and arguments until you wrote “he has the temperament to purposefully disregard the Constitution and become a dictator,” which is just silly fantasy, and “Clinton is the lesser of two evils,” which is more of the same. It’s your judgement to make, but I think Mrs. Clinton’s public service record, some of which you cite, disproves that and disqualifies her for further public service. If you were in a position where Obamacare had completely eroded your previous health benefits, perhaps you’d have an easier time making your selection.

  2. Nothing says staunch supporter of civil liberties like wanting more private prisons and replacing the entire healthcare system with Uber

  3. Johnson wants more private prisons, which are notorious for human rights abuses, and his policies would gut the working class’s access to health care. His foreign policy knowledge is minimal. His economic policies are fiscally irresponsible and according to multiple economists would not pay for themselves. His planned spending cuts would gut vital services to millions of Americans, up to and including Pell grants.

    No thanks.

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