Try as I might, I cannot seem to recall ever voting on whether or not I wanted to have a civic duty. So when I am told voting is proper in order to fulfill this requirement of citizenship, I am remarkably unsatisfied.
The unsettling feeling I get when I imagine this rationale is thought to be acceptable by political participants and high school civics teachers, is matched by my discomfort at the thought any number of voting-aged citizens unquestionably believe this.
No one should vote for the sake of the voting process itself. Voting is worthless detached from the ultimate consequences it brings about, and voting for the wrong candidate is worse than taking a nap.
For this reason, Tuesday’s aforementioned “civic duty” is overridden by the moral imperative to positively contribute to the world. That is the essential task of all people. Those with the ability to cast a ballot merely have an added outlet.
But understanding voting as a moral issue also involves disregarding of the notion that “it doesn’t matter who you vote for as long as you vote!” It matters very much, and culpability for a bad vote remains as long as the voter is negligently ignorant.
That of course, is the caveat. It is astonishingly popular to deride the American people, as borrowing comedian Bill Maher’s words, “too stupid,” but intelligence is not the issue. It is more about developing some kind of understanding between casting a vote and the actual impact it will have. This is the vital part of the democratic process that seems to have been permanently removed from Minnesota.
Essentially, abstaining from voting is not ideal—wrong even—but voting without awareness of its ramifications is reckless. Political momentum, either as seen in 2008 with Obama’s election or in the current year’s pending Republican wave, should not be legitimate grounds for the enthusiasm gap witnessed.
The coming election should mean as much or as little as the election before. Closing out an episode of “Hardball” last week, Chris Matthews pleaded with Democrats not to fail to vote in the face of inevitable losses, “You can help pick good, public officials. You can help keep bad ones from coming into office and becoming public officials.”
Matthews, whom I often disagree with but whose show is excellent, has summed up the purpose of voting quite aptly. And while I wouldn’t be distressed in the slightest to see high Republican turnout and Democratic voters forgo the election entirely, I believe I would be remiss to encourage the same sort of fad-style voting that swept the current president into office.
The fundamental principle that should dictate whether someone bothers to get to the polls is if he or she is conceptually aware of what the act of voting a specific way may lead to. If not, the lesser evil is to just stay home.