Today is “mini” Super Tuesday – Election Day. And in California that means it is time to vote in the primaries to determine who will represent each party in the general election next November. It also means that we will determine the outcome of a number of initiatives that we, the people, supposedly put on the ballot in an effort to do what the legislature cannot or will not. Of course, there is very little of the “people” involved in the initiative process anymore. For some time it has been an instrument of special interests to get custom tailored laws on the books that are portrayed as benefiting the general good, but in reality specifically target a much narrower interest. Among the most egregious to date is Proposition 16, euphemistically named “The Peoples Right to Vote.” Almost entirely funded by PG&E, if passed this measure would solidify a near monopoly the utility has in the state.
My purpose here isn’t to weigh in as for or against this or any other proposition (for the record, I will be voting against it), but rather to address the argument that those who do not take the time to get informed should not vote. The predicted turnout for this election is characteristically low with estimates as dismal as only one third of those registered taking the time to cast a ballot. I am also not going through an exercise that argues the much-trumpeted call that those who do not vote have no right to complain. Comedian George Carlin turned this argument upside down, but I would argue that every citizen who is affected by the laws of our land has the right to complain – it is, in fact, a constitutional right. But I do believe that voting, even if “uninformed,” is a sacred responsibility and that the daunting amount of propaganda should not be a deterrent – there are many avenues to getting informed.
Most people voting do not research the issues as thoroughly as I do. Most people take their cues from other sources and I would hope that those sources are at least a little deeper than the 30-second spots that those with a vested interest provide us with relentless fervor. There are other cues that can be much more reliable reflections of how a voter would vote if he or she had taken the considerable time it takes to be “informed.” The most common is one’s political affiliation, though with the disarray and inconsistency the two major parties display in their platforms – or perhaps more in their actions versus their rhetoric – this is not as reliable a cue as it perhaps once was. This is nowhere better evidenced by the growing trend of voters registering “decline to state.”
But there are other cues that voters can and do utilize that reflect their ideology without having to go through the tedium of researching the issues directly. They include columnists, analysts, peers and friends. I have had many a political discussions recently with a number of friends who know that I make it my business to stay on top of the issues and that I can see through the deluge of propaganda. I have no idea if I have influenced their vote and I never advocate for a particular decision, but I can answer questions with a balanced perspective. If I am asked, I will indicate how I intend to vote, but that question rarely comes up – those friends are seeking information, not advice. And I am interested in their views as well because I do not come up with my perspective out of thin air – I cannot see a given issue from all possible perspectives.
The bottom line is that I reject the idea that those who are not informed should not vote. Essentially I reject the idea that they are not informed – most are far more than they realize. Stephen Colbert ridiculed President Bush at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner for relying on his gut to make decisions, and while making decisions such as waging war should be far more informed than a gut feeling, a feeling is more than sufficient for casting a ballot. Even relying only on the advertising can be sufficient to form an opinion if one pays attention to what is not included and listens to opposing arguments. But perhaps the best way is to bounce ideas off those whom we already respect – our friends. That can be the most accurate cue available.