The Ethics of Non-Voting Candidates

Meg Whitman, the former eBay  C.E.O. making a run at the California State House from the Republican side, didn’t bother to register to vote until 2002.  Nassau County’s candidate for attorney general, Kathleen Rice, registered 18 years before Whitman sis, but still didn’t bother to go to a polling place or cast a ballot until the same year, 2002. She calls this repeated lapse, which ended when she was 37 years old, a “youthful mistake.”

No, it was a series of the same “mistake” repeated over and over again from youth, though young adulthood, into early middle age. Democracy is a participatory form of government, in which each citizen possesses a shared obligation to be civically literate, educated and informed, aware of the problems in the community, and committed to work within the system to address those problems. The minimum level of engagement required of all adult citizens is casting serious and thoughtful votes in local, state and national elections. Not doing so constitutes a failure of the obligations of citizenship, a breach of responsibility and diligence, apathy, and laziness.

The New York Times, discussing Rice’s lapse, notes that voters don’t seem to care about this conduct, which is perhaps explained by the fact that a disgustingly high proportion of their friends and family members don’t bother to vote either. Those irresponsible citizens, however, are not asking to lead the rest of us. Failing to fulfill one of the basic duties of citizenship in a democracy shouldn’t disqualify someone from running for office, but it should confer an extra burden of proof that the candidate has had a significant change of heart and conduct, and hasn’t recklessly decided, to use an old metaphor, that it would be nice to be chosen Pope shortly after converting.

In Rice’s case, she has demonstrated a tendency to spin and avoid responsibility with her ridiculous and manifestly disingenuous “youthful mistake” excuse. I don’t know about the citizens of Nassau County, but that, added to her 18 years of sitting out elections, would be enough to keep me from voting for her.

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