When Not Voting Is The Right Thing To Do

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.

8 thoughts on “When Not Voting Is The Right Thing To Do

  1. I am actually laboring over the decision over whether or not I’m going to vote for Lincoln Chafee for governor. I support him, but I’m not totally sure he’d make a good governor, and I know less about the opposition.

  2. Jack,
    Not to suggest that I disagree, but your whole argument rests on the idea that the uninformed should KNOW they’re uninformed and stay home. How’s that supposed to work? Moreover, the question over who exactly the uninformed ones are is rather subjective to begin with. I can’t imagine you think Pope Benedict is a particularly dim-witted individual, just perhaps misinformed on issues of human sexuality. Should he stay home next election (assuming he could vote here, that is)?

    -Neil

    • I think most uninformed, unengaged voters know it…and most of them don’t vote. The group you’re talking about are the badly informed, or the informed and uncomprehending. They do vote,and you’re right about them. Their votes are fine with me—who knows? Their mistaken analysis, in my view, may be right while mine is wrong. If they have thought about the decision, if they are trying, I’m not going to argue for a return to literacy tests at the polls..

  3. I’d like to see these “Get out the Vote” campaigns add a bit of reality to their slogans. Make it more like “Get informed, Make a decision, Cast your Vote”

    Then at least we’d be telling the populace what is expected of them, and if that looks like too much work, then they’ll know that they should stay home.

  4. Speaking as an experienced election offical, I can back you up on this, Jack. I hate to think how many voters have come to my polls over the years with no knowledge of the candidates or the issues. Some will come in with the newspaper’s endorsement page in hand and dutifully vote it right down the line. Others will come in with a candidate’s handout or a union’s list of recommendations and do likewise. Some people can’t even figure out how to use the voting machines, despite numerous handouts and instructions on the eSlate itself… and in three languages! Then there are those who will try to get me to explain the candidates or the propositions. As an election official, of course, I’m rightfully prohibited from doing either. I’ve seen other examples of voter incompetance that are nothing short of amazing! Yet… these people cast votes that count. They can blindly vote fellow incompetants (and outright criminals) into office. And they have. This is what happens when a republic devolves into a mobocracy, where the privilege of the vote is given away at age 18 to anyone as a casual birthright.

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