Saturday, October 23, 2004

Should You Vote?

Mona Charen has a column on Town Hall that recommends that “uninformed” voters should stay home on November 2.

She’s got a point. (I know – if she wears a hat you can’t see it.) A lot of voters will go into the polls knowing who they plan to vote for in the presidential election, and they’re basing it on party affiliation or doing it in the negative; voting against someone rather than for a particular candidate. That may not be the best way to choose a candidate, but it’s human nature to decide that way. But a lot of voters will be faced with a dizzying array of local races, ballot measures, charter and constitutional amendments that they will have never heard of and end up making completely uninformed choices based on nothing more than party affiliation – or filling out the ballot to make a cool pattern with the marks on the card. That’s not democracy, it’s electoral darts, and in a way, I agree with Ms. Charen: if you don’t have an informed opinion about the candidates, don’t vote for – or against – them.

That is not to say I advocate passing a test of knowledge when you walk into the polling place. But with ten days to go in the before the election, there is plenty of time to read up and find out about what you’re going to be asked to decide on in the election. Do you know where each candidate stands on issues that are important to you? (If you’re reading this blog, you probably do.) Do you have a passing knowledge of the questions that are on the ballot? (Florida has eight constitutional amendment questions, including one on how to amend the constitution.) Are you familiar with the names in the local races; not just the people running for Congress, but the judges, state representatives, and county commissioners? Are you comfortable voting the straight party ticket, or will you really know whether or not the Democrat or Republican you choose reflects your views on local issues? And then there’s the maddening “non-partisan” elections for judges and so forth.

When I go into the voting booth, I try to be up on all the issues. But there are times when I see a race where I’ve never heard of either person or have no idea what the ballot measure really means. I have no qualms about leaving that choice blank, although I chide myself for not having heard of it. And there are times when I have voted for a Democrat only because he or she is a Democrat, but I consider that to be a lazy habit.

Everywhere I’ve lived the local paper or election bureau has published a voter’s guide. Miami-Dade County’s is very informative in three languages (English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole) and lists all the names and ballot measures. The rest is up to the voters. Oh, yeah – it will help if all the votes are counted, too.

Ms. Charen seems to think that if the “uninformed” voter stays home, democracy will be better served. Well, seeing as how the turn-out percentages for presidential elections have been declining over the last fifty years and looking at where that’s gotten us, I’d say that her theory is uninformed as well.