I am pretty sure I speak for the minority with this viewpoint. It seems as American as apple pie to believe that all good citizens should vote. However, I believe that there is fundamental flaw in logic that takes us from the founding principal of democracy that everyone be allowed to vote, to the idea that everyone should vote. That everyone can vote is essential to democracy. It is what ensures representation of the people in a fair and appropriate manner. However, is high voter turnout really important for democracy, or is informed voters more important?
The goal of democracy is that good decisions will be made by the government that properly represent the desires of the people. There are two parts to this: good decisions and representation. Good decisions require thorough understanding. In practice, democracy on a large scale is simply impractical. We must resort to a representational democracy. There are simply too many decisions that must be made by the government to ask everyone to thoroughly understand the issues. However, this concept is not just a necessary evil, that should be avoided as much as possible. In representational democracy, most decisions are made by people that study and research the issues. This is actually very beneficial. Rather than decisions being made by people that have only quickly glanced at the issues, decisions are made by representatives that understand the issues. This same concept should also apply to issues that are brought to the general public. My main point is simply that we should not be encouraging more people to vote, but rather that we should encourage people to only exercise their right to vote if they are really willing to research the issues.
The second goal of democracy is representation. If there are fewer voters will proper representation be lost. This can primarly be frame as a statistics question, with decent mathematical answers. In large populations, a small voter turnout has very little effect on representational accuracy. If a population of one million registered voters vote, and voter turnout dropped from %40 (typical for America), to %20, the impact on representational accuracy would be a fraction of a percentage. In short, if only highly informed people voted on issues, better decisions would be made, without signficant loss in representation.
James Bouvard said, “Democracy must be something more than 2 wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” How does democracy fail us in this situation? High voter turnout does not help this situation. Of course we can simply blame the wolves for the lack of consideration in voting, but in reality there are many situations, where the ethics are not so clearcut. The important aspect of successful representation that this example illustrates is that people’s opinions are not necessarily equal in the forcefulness. Some people are very close to indifferent on issues, the issue does not seem to have much impact to them. Others maybe deeply impacted by the issues. By encouraging everyone to vote, you are actually encouraging those who are impacted to lesser degree to a equal plane with high degrees of impact. By avoiding such encouragement, you allowing the natural process of less impact to result in lower turnout. Back to our example, if we had many wolves, there are probably lots of options for what to have for dinner. It is not a big deal for them, to choose something besides the sheep. Consequently, the natural inclination is for low voter turnout by wolves on this issue. On the otherhand, the sheep will naturally turn out in droves to vote on this issue. By simply allowing the natural process of allowing people to vote, but pushing them into, it is quite reasonable that voter turnout by wolves could be %30, and the sheep can win the vote (as they should).
Another aspect of voting is simply the cost of becoming informed enough to vote. If politics was the end goal of life, and good decisions by the government was the key to our happiness, we should certainly all spend every available moment researching issues and preparing to vote. However, this is not the situation. In fact, the time spent researching issues could be diverted to other activities, there is a vast amount of good that could be done. If half of voters decided not to vote and spend time researching issues, but rather taking that time and volunteering at the nearest rescue mission, what would be the impact? It would be hugely positive, with negligible impact on accurate representation.
Most Christians seem to think it is their spiritual duty to vote, but is that really what the Bible teaches? Actually this can go both ways. The Bible clearly teaches to protect the innocent. When issues come up where we can see the need to stand up for the innocent, we should clearly make our voices heard and cast our votes. Without getting into the issue, the Christian’s motivation for voting pro-life should be to protect the innocent. However, are most of the issues before us really about protecting the innocent? Or are they about making it easier for us to be Christian’s, or trying to get others to be more moral? Jesus said that if someone asks for your robe to give it him and more, and if someone asks you to go a mile with them, go two. I don’t believe this is just for individuals. The political implication: the church should be taking every opportunity to defer to the desires of the people around them.
November 15, 2007 at 6:52 pm
You should send this link to your parents and my parents and see what they think of your view.
November 26, 2007 at 7:54 am
I like this because it echoes my sentiments and helps me not feel so guilty about not knowing anything about politics! I agree with your logic, but I think your mom would shake her head and wonder where she went wrong with you. 🙂
ANd look at you Mr. Wordsmith — I’m amazed you can write something this long!
November 6, 2012 at 1:53 am
[…] under-represented people (like minorities), or happen to be an unusually well-informed voter. (Kris wrote a post on this a few years […]