Friday, March 24, 2006

To Vote or Not to Vote

There was a primary election in Illinois on Tuesday, and voter turnout was abysmal. Although an incumbent in a major race suffered a stroke the week before, only about 25% of eligible voters in Chicagoland bothered to go to the polls (incidentally, the incumbent won, though many doubt whether he will be fit to run in the general election). Tribune reporter Rex Huppke questions whether this is really such a bad thing. He quotes experts who point out that the fewer people vote, the better informed those people are, and that those voters tend to represent the opinions of the general populace pretty well. Huppke didn't vote and doesn't see it as a big deal. Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, on the other hand, practically begged people to vote on Tuesday.

While I agree with Zorn about the importance of voting, I do not tell everyone to go out and vote. As far as I'm concerned, there is an implicit pact in the voting process. You get to choose our leaders, but you have to do your research and make an informed decision. Representative government requires diligence. If all you know about the candidates is what you saw in a television commercial, then you don't deserve a ballot. Sure you are legally entitled, but you have not earned it.

Rather than imploring the ignorant masses to vote on election day, people like Zorn should make their big push ahead of time: "The election is coming in four weeks, and these are the contested races... Now get to work!"

On a related note, I do not fill out my entire ballot. I only vote in the races that I have been following. If I haven't done my research on judges, I don't blindly vote to retain all of them -- that behavior prevents those who know better from getting the lousy ones voted out. If I don't know anything about the water commissioners, I skip them, too. I vote for unopposed incumbents only if I am pleased with the work they have done (for example, John Fritchey is a great state rep who agrees with my views nearly every time I contact him, plus he writes his own blog so constituents can learn his thoughts). Zorn's idea of offering a "no confidence" or "none of the above" option for uncontested races is interesting, but only if it is binding -- otherwise the cynic in me figures it would be roundly ignored by the powers that be.

I have to confess to another, less noble factor determining whether I tell someone to vote. Frankly, I only encourage people to vote if I think they will vote similarly to me. So I always drag my wife along to the voting booth, but I would never dream of reminding my dad that it's election day (alas, he remembers on his own). I wouldn't hide my Republican grandfather's car keys until 7 PM so he couldn't vote (wouldn't that be illegal?), but I'd volunteer to drive my liberal mother-in-law to the polls. Yes, it's partisan, but that's my contribution to (usually) the Democratic Party in lieu of writing checks or walking the precincts and ringing doorbells.

No comments: