Written by Marcus Ireland
A prevalent message in our democracy is encouraging people to vote, especially during election season. Get-Out-The-Vote has been especially aggressive this year, warranting the question of who should be voting.
While the ideal democracy says all voting-eligible members of society should vote, keeping the government accountable to its electorate, it is often forgotten that the ideal democracy would also assume adequate political knowledge among voters. This ideal is not the reality. Political scientists find that the average citizen of the United States does not have as much political knowledge as democracy-idealists would hope.
Given the low levels of political knowledge, voters turn to political parties as a cue on how to vote, without educating themselves on the ballot and issues. The answer who should vote depends on the work put in by both the political candidates, their campaigns, and the voters themselves. Society is witnessing increasing levels of partisanship (despite the fact that numbers of registered independents are rising—most independents are as partisan as voters registered with one of the two main political parties) and with these increasing levels of partisanship, straight-ticket voting becomes a renewed concern.
Democracy functions at its best when the voting public is aware of all candidates, their positions on the issues, and the voter’s own personal position on those issues. If the voter is seeking out information about the candidates and their positions or if campaigns are conducting voter-outreach in such a way that they can inform voters on their platform and positions, then the voter should be voting.
When a voter is uninformed on the issue or if the voter is apathetic toward the issue, then when they vote according to partisanship only, the democracy suffers harm.
Uninformed voting is not a lesser of two evils, between voting or not. Uninformed voting is worse than not voting at all. Uninformed voting has the potential to flood the race with votes which do not actually represent the feelings and understandings of the community. If this lack of representation is the case, then it does more harm than good to vote if the vote is uninformed. This is not to advocate for a system where only the elite in our society vote.
It does not require an advanced education to vote, it does not require a degree. But it does require critical thought on the part of the voter, and requires campaigns to speak toward issues instead of making negative attacks on their opponents. Although alignment between party and ideology appears to exist due to polarization, Billie Sutton of South Dakota seems to have found ideological agreement without party alignment.
The power of the people still exists, and is still meaningful. But when the vote is used negligently and carelessly by those who intentionally choose not to become informed, then the usefulness, the impact, and the efficacy of the vote become weakened.
Every voting-eligible citizen should still go out and vote, but they should not cast their ballot without making sure their votes carry weight. A politically knowledgeable electorate is one which can keep politicians and the government accountable to the people.