- - Sunday, October 11, 2020

It’s election time again, and with it comes the call to action: “Voting is your civic duty!” Americans are bombarded with messages practically shaming them for even considering staying home on Election Day. Ironically, these messages indirectly thwart the very change the activists behind them presumably seek.

Notwithstanding widespread views that voting is praiseworthy, there is no reason to praise an irresponsible vote. To vote responsibly, one must educate themselves about the relevant issues and inform themselves about the likely consequences of their vote. Those who fail to do so are more likely to believe unrealistic campaign promises and vote for the candidate who lacks viable platforms and solutions. They are susceptible to the influence of catchy but misleading advertisements, thereby unwittingly bolstering the influence of monied special-interest groups. Perhaps worst of all, voters who do not pay attention until shortly before the election are most likely to be influenced by pernicious disinformation campaigns, including those of foreign governments.

To be sure, all voting-age citizens should have the right to vote without any undue burden on the exercise of this right. But that does not mean that the irresponsible voters unwilling to educate themselves should exercise this right. Consider a hypothetical election for a judge position. It is unlikely that many potential voters, other than perhaps attorneys who have appeared before the judges, would know much about the candidates. Those attorneys who have developed an informed opinion about the candidates are more likely than other potential voters to cast a ballot without being reminded to do so.

Now assume the entire electorate is bombarded with exhortations to vote shortly before the election. Many persons who would otherwise stay home on Election Day conclude that doing so is irresponsible. Based on that understanding, but without much understanding as to which judge is more competent, these persons go to the polls and dilute the votes of the informed. Outside of Russia, why would anyone want this outcome?

“Get out the vote” campaigns that solicit irresponsible votes by persons who would otherwise not vote undermine the very objectives their advocates promote. Following this point, a different call to action is more likely to bring about favorable change: “Educate yourself about the issues and the candidates. If you haven’t done so, don’t vote.”


Menlo Park, Calif.

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