November 01, 2004

The duty to vote

Much has been made lately about the citizen's duty to vote. Or rather, there's been a lot of encouragement for people to vote, with no reference whatsoever to any sort of duty. This is unfortunate.

In response to these, there's been a bit of a backlash against the "just go vote" type of campaigns; specifically, a lot of people are irritated that people are being encouraged to vote even if they're uninformed. This backlash has on occasion (not as part of any widespread campaign) gone so far as to say that those who aren't well-informed about the issues should not vote. This is also unfortunate.

As I see it, citizens of a democratic government have two very important duties: to inform themselves, and to vote. Crucially, though, I do not link these two; the duty to vote is no less present if one is uninformed, and failing to learn about the issues does not let you off the hook for voting.

The reason I carefully formulate it in this way is that we have no test for whether people are actually informed. Nor should we, of course, as there is no feasible means for such a test, and it would instantly devolve into a poll tax/literacy test situation anyway. But because there is no such test, a lot of uninformed people end up going out to vote. And I would posit that anyone who is conscientious enough to have the thought---even in passing---that "perhaps I'm not sufficiently well-informed to cast a vote", they are already better informed and more thoughtful than at least a third of the population, and at least ten percent (at a bare minimum) of actual voters.

At the same time, this knowledge that they need to vote whether they're informed or not should not decrease the relevance of informing themselves. And if an uninformed person goes and votes, that just means they have neglected one duty rather than two. For democracy to work, its populace needs to work at understanding the issues and electing representatives that actually represent rather than just having pretty campaign literature.

But for the love of God, don't stay home just because you wish you were better informed. Learn what you can from places like vote-smart.org, go vote, and just try to do a little better next time.

"My impression is that just about every damn thing you can think of makes the baby Jesus cry. The little wanker should grow some thicker skin already." --Chris Sedlack Posted by blahedo at 11:50pm on 1 Nov 2004

Comments
I have heard Republicans at work debating that the rock the vote campaigns are unpatriotic and are hurting America because they encourage the uninformed to vote. They said that get out the vote campaigns were far worse than the Republicans doing their patriotic duty of making sure only the properly registered get to vote. This lovely flower of democracy is younger than I am. I have talked to him and he seems to believe that S.H. was behind 9/11 and other lies. I do think this is part of organized campaigns; I think they just are keeping it under the radar. Well, I am going to be at the polls with them open! Posted by lee at 5:18am on 2 Nov 2004
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