For people who have a “thing” about the beauty of the Constitution, it may be unsettling that we’re even asking the question today, “Should voting be mandatory?”
At last check in a very unscientific survey, 41% of people said “yes,” which just goes to show you how easy it is to get people to endorse stripping people of rights.
The right to vote goes hand in hand with a right not to vote and while many people find that distasteful, that’s the thing about rights. We don’t have to own a gun, for example. You don’t have to be free from a religion if you don’t want to. And rights, you may have heard, are inalienable. Rights are cool like that.
Plus, if you made people vote, you raise another issue: Is the country well served by having people who don’t know what they’re voting on… voting?
In fact, we don’t have to wait to answer that question. At what point are we better off if some people don’t vote?
“There is a legitimate argument to be had about how low your knowledge level needs to be before you should seriously consider abstaining,” Ilya Somin writes today on the legal blog, The Volokh Conspiracy. “The answer depends in part on the knowledge level of the rest of the electorate. Even if you know very little about a given race or issue, you may be justified in voting if the rest of the probable electorate is even worse. But, at the very least, you should probably abstain if you know almost nothing. In that scenario, the average of the rest of the electorate will usually be better, or at least is unlikely to be worse.”
“When voters support bad policies, it is usually out of ignorance rather than selfishness,” Sormin claims.
Let’s face it: There are always two positions on the ballot that people always point to when it comes to voting without much information: judges and soil & water conservation commissioners.
Do you vote anyway for these positions and guess? Or do you abstain?
In these types of races, Somin abstains.
In this election, as in several previous ones, I’m going to practice what I preach. I think I know at least as much as the average voter about the presidential and congressional races, and about Virginia Question 1. On the other hand, I know very little about Virginia Question 2, and almost nothing about most of the candidates in the local government elections here in Arlington County. With respect to the local races, my knowledge is diminished by the fact that the candidates don’t have party identifications listed on the ballot. Therefore, I can’t even utilize my understanding of the general proclivities of the Democrats and Republicans in this area. As a result, I’m going to abstain on most of these issues and leave them to the rest of the electorate, which hopefully knows more.
(Photo: Minnesota Historical Society)