I just listened to a CNN host chastise Americans for their relatively low voting percentage (less than 50%), and then urge “everybody” to vote–“Men and women have died for your right to vote!” he said. “Democrat, Republican, Independent or undecided–go to the polls and vote!”
Inspiring. And wrong.
The Founding Fathers presumed that those who would exercise the right to vote would be those who were informed on the issues and the candidates, and no one else. A civically responsible, engaged and educated citizenry was agreed by all to be a prerequisite for democracy, and it still is.
The ballot box is the steering mechanism for the nation. You don’t put all your loved ones in a car and give the keys to someone who can’t drive, has never driven, who doesn’t know the roads or who has no idea how to operate the vehicle. That would be irresponsible and foolish. It is similarly irresponsible and foolish to urge citizens to vote who have invested no thought, research or analysis into what or who to vote for.
Corrupt politicians, and even the uncorrupt variety, love uninformed voters, of course, and why wouldn’t they? They are the ones who can be influenced by deceptive ads, rumors, and lies. They are the ones whose opinions can be manipulated by expensive ad campaigns and catchy slogans. They are the ones who vote for someone because they think he is his own father (as many who voted for George W. Bush did); they are the ones who vote for candidates who are cute rather than competent or trustworthy, like John Edwards or Christine O’Donnell; they are the ones who voted for the embarrassing Alvin Greene to be the Democratic nominee for the Senate in South Carolina, because they thought they were voting for Al Green, the singer.
They are the ones whose votes can be bought. There could be no complaints about the influence of big money, regardless of the source, in elections if the only citizens who voted were those who had done their civic duty and educated themselves about the issues and the candidates, rather than lazily allowing marketing manipulations sell them elected leaders like they were soap or pizza.
In all likelihood, the U.S. voter participation is too high. That is the only explanation for the over-abundance of crooks, liars, dim-bulbs and hacks who get elected over and over again. There are not enough informed voters to out balance the casual poll visitor who casts a vote thinking, “Oh, yeah. I’ve heard of this guy. I’ll vote for him.”
Elections aren’t a party game, like charades, in which the point is to get everybody involved. They are crucial to our lives and future, and that of the United States. If you are informed, then your duty is to vote. If you are not informed, your duty is to either educate yourself, or leave the elections in the hands of your fellow citizens who give a damn.