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Why I Didn’t Vote

Why I Didn’t Vote

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Published by jmkuhn18

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Published by: jmkuhn18 on Jun 08, 2011
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05/12/2014

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Why I Didn’t VoteThis past November, my grandmother kindly went to the trouble of obtaining anabsentee ballot for me to vote in the Pennsylvania midterm elections, but I never filledthat ballot out, and it now lies in a trash heap somewhere. I wasn’t trying to spite mygrandmother. I made a deliberate, reasoned choice not to vote—yes, you can do such athing. I am not referring to a decision to abstain because neither major party strikes your fancy, or because you reject the country’s entire political-economic system. My decisionwas not guided by any such political angst, although such a motive for abstention may be perfectly legitimate. No, my decision was motivated, quite simply, by my own ignorance.But let me explain further.As I approached the first election for which I would be of legal voting age, I was alittle puzzled as to why all my elder relations were so supremely concerned with whether I planned to vote. Strangely, they did not seem at all concerned whether I would cast aninformed, judicious vote. None of them made any efforts to ensure that my politicaleducation was sufficient, aside from tossing a few pro-life pamphlets at me. Of course,this aroused my suspicion that my elders were only desirous to add one more tally to the party of their own political persuasion.My puzzlement at this odd approach to civic duty did not abate. It stuck with meuntil I was recently reminded of it by, of all things, a Doritos bag. On the back of this bagwas a marketing shtick claiming, “Doritos Supports Kids Who
 Do Something 
!” (or alongthose lines). The bag profiled a young man who had founded an organization to increasethe number of young people voting. Now, I must make it clear that I am fully in supportof the intentions of this noble endeavor. But this crinkly bag of snack food called myattention back to something fishy about the prevailing attitude toward elections. This wasthe same fishiness I had smelt around my relatives, and it consisted in this: the Doritos bag praised this young man’s organization simply for increasing the youth vote by250,000, or some
number 
, without any mention of the
quality
of those votes.It might seems strange to talk about the
quality
of a vote, but I believe it onlyseems strange because we are not used to talking about it, and that is because all people’sopinions must be regarded as equal, etc., etc. But when I say quality of a vote, I meansimply the common notion, taught in all civics classes, that a citizen must investigate the
 
candidates thoroughly and make a sensible and impartial decision, to the best of his or her abilities. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with the lack of voter quality than of voter quantity? How does an increase in votes by 250,000 benefit the nation, if each of thosevotes might have been chosen based on the names of the candidates or completely atrandom, for all we know? Yet one seldom hears a big to-do made over any attempts byindividuals or organizations to enable the citizenry to carry out their civic duty with prudence and justice. I am sure that such attempts exist—maybe the organization featuredon the Doritos bag even has an educational and informational branch—but this crucialside of the duty of voting is too often ignored.That Doritos bag represented to me what seems to be the common opinion of voting in America (I am not sure about the rest of the democratic world). Around electiontime, you hear one rallying cry taken up on all sides around you in the form of triteslogans: “Get Out and Vote!” “Make Your Voice Heard!” These slogans have begun toirritate me to no end, not because of what they advocate—of course everyone in ademocracy should participate in the government—but because they are never balanced bythe necessary and complementary exhortations: “Know Your Candidates!” “Research theIssues!” “Be Fair-Minded and Consider the Common Good, Rather than Only Your PettyPassions!” The common slogans imply that the duty of voting is fulfilled in a singleevent, that voting is just something you go out and
do
on election day. But in reality, thedemocratic duty to vote is a continual duty, and it involves much more than most peoplewould like to believe. It requires
consistent attention to happenings in the public world 
,whether on the national, state, or local level, and
thoroughgoing investigation of thecandidates
in the period running up to the election. It also requires
a serious attempt to grasp all the complexities and nuances involved in highly controversial issues
. In short,the duty of voting demands both
time
and mental
effort 
, yes, even a lot of each. But suchis the
 sacrifice
we must make to live in a free society. To the extent that each of us failsto make these sacrifices, we let ourselves be guided by forces above our heads, and we
cease to be free
.While we’re on the topic, I might as well point out that those forces over our heads are often the very forces that give us the illusion of freedom of choice. I amreferring to the media, to the advertising campaigns of the politicians, and to the
 
government itself. These agencies do very little to facilitate informed decisions, and oftenactively stymie rational deliberation. In general, it is fairly safe to say that any mediamessage is strategically designed to work on your passions and prejudices, for one side or the other. And of course, there are only two sides to every issue. Every political matter,down to the tiniest administrative detail, is immediately turned into a game of tug-of-war  by ultra-polarized politicians and pundits, so that one can never even get the factsstraight. And the PR teams of most politicians do their utmost to make their candidate’s platform as vague as possible and to keep any bits of concrete information from creepinginto campaign advertisements and websites. The portraits of the candidates that we getfrom them are, of course, meticulously crafted.Where can one turn in this quagmire? It would be nice if one could find an agencyor publication with the express purpose of providing busy citizens with clearly organized,objective information on political candidates and governmental proceedings, but to myknowledge no such agency exists. Entrepreneurial types, take note—here is an enormousgap in the information market, just crying to be filled. And it seems that the Internet was
made
for such uses. But to hope for a truly objective political news source is probably tosearch for the philosopher’s stone. In the present state of things, there
are
some sourcesof honest information and voices of intelligent opinion within the media, but these arefew and hard to find. They mostly hide out in the written species of media—newspapers,magazines, and books, on paper or online. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people payattention to these sources as they are drowned out by more insistent and illiberal voiceson the television and the radio.Because of all the obstacles mentioned above, the best (maybe only) possible wayto be really informed about what you are voting for is to actually get involved in thegovernment and get know the candidates personally. Of course, that is pretty hard to doon the national and even the state level, so your best bet is to start locally. Coincidentally,the level of government that should affect your day-to-day life most directly (the local) isalso the level in which your voice can most easily have an actual impact. But paradoxically, people seem to pay more attention to political matters the less power theyhave to affect them. You may know everything there is to know about Barack Obama andSarah Palin, but can you even name your city council member or the mayor of your 

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