In recent months I’ve heard some people whose opinions I’ve respected in the past say not every eligible voter should cast a ballot. Even though I suspect the article I linked to here has a “spin” on this issue I don’t think I can find any website or editorial in this volatile election season that doesn’t. In fact let’s be fair and say that I’ve got my own “spin” on things too, even though I’m a registered independent and could easily cast a ballot for President for any of the three people shown (or at least three others). I believe the most qualified candidate should be the choice of the voter at the polls regardless of the party they represent.
Let’s get back to the subject of “not every eligible voter should vote” though. The proponents of this argument tend to advocate that an uneducated voter with a ballot is like a drunkard with a loaded handgun, spraying bullets in all direction for the sheer excitement of it without concern for who gets hit. That’s certainly a nightmare scenario I never hope to come across in real life. Even though I’ve never believed that every citizen needs a gun, I’m far more comfortable with a responsible gun owner that followed all the necessary (perhaps onerous) rules to purchase one, stored it in their house in a secure location, and only fired it at a gun club or shooting range while fully sober. An educated gun owner is not as scary a prospect as a foolish drunk, and an educated voter is definitely preferable to someone who votes just for the f–k of it. All eligible voters should understand all of the ballot initiatives in their area and all of the political stances of the people that they choose.
If it were that simple for me I could end the editorial right here and be done with it. Unfortunately it seems like every time I see a proponent of the “only responsible and well informed citizens should vote” argument, they tend to overwhelmingly be on the right side of the aisle i.e. conservative and/or Republican. That doesn’t disqualify the merit of what they have to say any more than if it came from the far left i.e. liberal or Democratic side, but as with all things political you have to measure not just the reasonableness of the argument but the benefit to those who MAKE the argument. Any time any politician talks about enacting a new law or levying a new tax, I view the possibility they genuinely believe it could benefit the public against the possibility a special interest group with a well heeled lobbyist gains from it more than you or I ever will. And if you look at it from a strictly historical and unbiased point of view, low voter turnout benefits conservative candidates, so even a reasonable argument about educated voters MIGHT also carry with it an ulterior motive — even if it’s subconscious and not overt to the person speaking it.
Conservative candidates also benefit when fewer disenfranchised groups go to the polls, and while you can’t say the “educated voter” argument is de facto racist, you can read between the lines when state party chairs complain that “certain groups” get extra access to the polls. Make no mistake about it there’s been a lot of race-baiting, Islamophobia and gay-bashing in this election season, one of the ugliest in my 24 years of going to the polls, and if anybody hoped it would get more civilized before the polls opened today it has actually gotten ten times worse. The scariest thing about 2016 is the raw open wound that’s been opened across America that will not heal any time soon no matter who wins.
So will you vote today on November 8th? Should you vote? I’ve gone over this argument a thousand times in my head on both sides of the debate. It strikes me that the “educated voter” argument no matter how well-intentioned it might be comes down to an elitist view that shrinks the franchise. Who gets to decide what “educated” is? If you believe one candidate is a racist and one candidate is a bigot, with no other qualifying reasons to vote other than that, isn’t that an “educated” decision based on what you know and have learned about the two? If you believe there’s a better third option because the two leading candidates nauseate you, isn’t that an informed opinion too? Who decides what an “educated voter” is? A high school diploma? A college degree? Your GPA?
Ultimately the “drunkard with a gun” argument doesn’t pass muster with me, because the only danger a voter with a ballot presents is to themselves if they get a paper cut. Besides nothing is as cut and dry in politics as it seems. Republicans who complain about “tax and spend” Democrats tack pork barrel projects that benefit their own constituents and nobody else into spending bills. Democrats who complain about Republicans that avoid paying taxes are using every loophole to pay the minimum themselves. To me the “educated” voter is someone who votes their conscience and beliefs regardless of party or level of education. That’s why the franchise has consistently been expanded over the last two centuries, and shrinking it at this point is a disservice to democracy. It might be scary at times to trust your fellow citizens with the vote, but I’ve disagreed with the outcome (2000) and still accepted the results, because at the end of the day our system abides and your friends and neighbors do too.