Normally I avoid politics on Words Become One because I do not want to polarize readers. However, with all the election craziness today and yesterday, a non-partisan issue spoke to me above the din. Don’t worry…we’re nowhere near soapbox territory, and you won’t catch me shouting at you in all caps. This is just an interesting topic, and I would love your opinion on it.
For the last two weeks I’ve felt inundated with TVs and billboard advertisements touting “Get Out the Vote!” or “Don’t Forget to Vote!”
This makes sense because most people are extremely offended by informed citizens choosing not to vote. I am one of those people. But I am also offended when uninformed citizens blindly cast their vote.
Consider: voting is a right that should never be taken for granted, but sometimes voting is a privilege we shouldn’t employ.
Why? Sometimes we aren’t informed. And voting when we’re uninformed disrespects that right.
Voting is the every-man’s power to affect change, and when involved citizens know the issues and vote to elect chosen representatives or approve initiatives, that is American democracy at its best. It’s enough to make you want to set your alarm clock to “America the Beautiful” and wake up beaming every morning.
However, if we haven’t researched issues, read statistics on candidates or listened to debates, our vote has the same power to affect change. Imagine the impact of millions of people skimming through a ballot and half-mindlessly filling in bubbles; those votes count just as much as the person who spent hours learning the referendums and initiatives.
While some will say that choosing not to vote is akin to letting the right to vote be taken away, I am convinced that many voters are uninformed, and therefore dangerous behind the lever. An article in the Democratic Strategist quotes data that approximately a third of the public is largely uninformed (for instance, they can’t name one of their own senators). If I’m a part of that third, choosing not to vote could be the most responsible handling of my rights.
NPR reported yesterday morning that since Seattle has switched to voting through mail-in ballots only, people are delaying voting until the last possible minute (this most definitely includes me; I mailed my ballot on its due date…it still counts). They reported that this shows a rise in voter consciousness, because citizens are changing their minds on issues and candidates as news about each emerges. This is good news, because it seems to show people are paying attention.
I am as guilty as the next person. I remember being 18 and so excited to vote, but I was too preoccupied with college applications, social activities and sports to pay attention to the details of what I was voting about. I pulled out my ballot at the kitchen table and hollered over to a parent to ask what the issues were and how I should vote. Clearly I didn’t appreciate the privilege.
This is why MTV’s “Rock the Vote” and “Vote or Die” campaigns tend to freak me out. To be fair, they claim to provide access to information on the issues on their website. But they are speaking to millions of 18-year-olds just like me (at the time), and while many of them are far more informed than I was, there are just as many who will vote just because P. Diddy told them to.
Fast-forward seven years and I am doing my best to watch mayoral debates, read my voter pamphlet, and read news articles and endorsements before I grab my pen to vote.
Yesterday I was stuck in 520 bridge traffic and I looked up to see about twenty impassioned people holding picket signs with names of their favorite candidates and “Vote Yes on Ref 71” (it passed) or “Vote No on Ref 1033” (it did not pass). At first I was encouraged at the sight of such activism, but then I stopped to consider: what about those who do not know what Ref 71 or 1033 are about? It’s possible the picket holders are convincing uninformed voters through word recognition. Later, someone might look at their ballot and say, “I’m not sure what this is about, but I remember all of those people holding “No” signs…”
An LA Times opinion article suggested testing voters before allowing them to vote, to ensure they understand the basics of US government before they decide how to change it. I am not supporting that idea, but I applaud the concept behind it (and I really hope I would pass it. Otherwise I would have proved my own point, and I will definitely be staying home next election cycle.)
There are only four types of people when it comes to voting. To prove that point, take the following quiz:
Did you vote yesterday?
Were you informed about that which you were voting?
— 1. A and 2. A = Informed citizen who voted
— 1. B and 2. A = Informed citizen who didn’t vote
— 1. A and 2. B = Uninformed citizen who voted
— 1. B and 2. B = Uninformed citizen who didn’t vote
When it comes to voting, the first and last results are the only choices I respect.