It’s not exactly the message you would expect to hear on election day. For those who know me it’s not a message they would ever expect to hear from me. As I drove to work this morning after casting my vote I got thinking about how destructive an uninformed vote can be. I won’t claim that there is a definable standard of what constitutes being informed. I think that is a decision that must be left to each potential voter, but for those who know they are not informed (those that can’t even see past the party label enough to recognize the party platform for example) not voting just might be your patriotic duty.
To the Voter
First, if you do not feel informed your task should be to get informed. Even if today is the election day you might be able to get informed enough to vote if you are have time to cram for the election. If you have no understanding of what the issues are it might be pretty hard but if you generally know the issues you should be able to get a feel for the candidates enough to decide if anyone deserves your support.
Second, if you do not get informed you cannot complain about what is happening – even if you voted. If you do get informed you can lobby for what you see as right but you can’t complain about who is actually making the decisions if you did not vote when they were elected.
Third, do not be afraid of a blank ballot. In other words, if none of the candidates merit your support for a particular office don’t feel that your time was wasted. In the case of municipal elections where you have the chance to vote for multiple candidates it is okay to not vote for a full suite. For example, in my area today I had the opportunity to vote for three candidates. If I had felt that there were only two candidates who had earned my support I could cast a ballot for only those two. Worst case scenario, write someone in for the final slot.
To the Activist
First, encouraging people to vote is wonderful but do not be satisfied with telling them to vote or worse, with telling them who to vote for. It’s fine to advocate for candidates that you support but always give some reason why you support them. (“Because they belong to my favored party” does not count as a reason!) Whenever you encourage people to vote always encourage them to become informed. Feel free to offer information but don’t stop encouraging them to vote if they disagree with you.
Second, encourage people to be informed before there is voting to do. Better yet, encourage them to participate. Promote attendance at caucus meetings and candidate events, not just the ballot box.
Third, for those who believe that a caucus system is subject to being overrun by fringe elements, dismantling the caucus system is not the solution to that problem. Caucuses favor those who show up. People who show up tend to be informed already or else they get informed quickly (sometimes by adopting the view of those who were already informed and sometimes by gathering information to counter the prevailing view of attendees). Primaries tend to favor those with money. That money is as likely to come from fringe elements as it is to come from mainstream voters – actually, it is more likely to come from fringe elements.
The solution to caucuses being dominated by fringe elements is to increase participation in the caucuses. There may be other tweaks worth considering, but the point is that ending the caucus system does not fix the problem.
Voting is our opportunity as citizens but simply casting a vote is not enough. We must take the time to become informed and to be involved. And we should encourage others to do the same – even if they disagree with us.