It's that time again. News commentators, politicians and others are urging people to get out and vote. After the election many will bemoan a low voter turnout. They claim it is a civic duty to vote. In that they miss the mark – badly. They seem to think that just getting people to vote is somehow good. Clearly that is not the case and low voter turnout is more of a symptom of a problem than it is a problem itself.
The real problem is apathy. Too many don't bother to vote because they haven't bothered to learn about the candidates and issues. The “don't care” crowd does cause bad statistics on voter turnout but those statistics are harmless. In fact I would claim that those who fail to inform themselves have a civic duty not to vote. We don't need apathetic and uninformed voters. We need voters who have studied the issues, thought carefully about them and who then vote as wisely as they are able.
Consider what happens when an informed and wise voter goes to the polls. He will know not only what the candidates promise but the cost of those promises if fulfilled. He will know the record of the incumbent. He will have thought carefully about who is likely to be good for the state or country, not just who promises the most goodies. While there will always be some unknowns he will reduce that problem to the best of his ability. It will be difficult for a demagogue to fool him because he looks below the surface.
Now consider the apathetic voter at the polls. How will he vote? He cannot vote wisely because he lacks the knowledge required to do so. That means he will vote on the basis of name familiarity, charisma, looks or other irrelevant factors. His vote will dilute the votes of wiser voters. He is easy prey for the demagogue because he never looks below the surface or the promises. In fact he is likely to fall for the most impossible claims. He is the demagogue's best friend – to the detriment of himself and other citizens.
Everybody should study the issues and candidates. We should be at least as careful as a company is about hiring employees. We are hiring employees who have a great deal of power over our lives.
No, we should not urge people to vote just to get them out to vote. Instead we should urge them to inform themselves and to think carefully about the issues. In fact we should urge the apathetic and uninformed to avoid voting. "If you don't care enough to inform yourself and to think, do us all a favor and stay home on election day."