Are You Qualified to Vote?

Photo Credit: Theresa Thompson

Photo Credit: Theresa Thompson

Vote with your whole life, not just a thin strip of paper.
— Thoreau

Lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that as much as we examine the qualifications of our political candidates, we must also focus our attention on our qualifications as voters. I'm not referring to the qualifications that permit one to have a vote in this country, but the qualifications that make one worthy of having a vote. Is it just me or are others questioning the judgment of voters in this country? 

It seems that many Americans, regardless of their political affiliations, are failing miserably in fulfilling their civic duties as voters in this country. Not only do many citizens neglect to cast their votes, but many cast their votes without any real knowledge of the issues, the candidates, the parties, or how our government is run. 

I’m certainly no expert, but in addition to the many important efforts focused on voter registration, I think that we need to focus more of our attention on voter education. You know, something along the lines of “I’m Just a Bill” for grown-ups would be useful because it seems like a lot of grown-ups have forgotten some important lessons about what it means to be a citizen.  Maybe we need voter exams and voting licenses in which people have to demonstrate some knowledge of the basics. I don't know, but what I do know is that placing the fate of this country in the hands of ignorant voters is as frightening to me as placing my life in the hands of ignorant drivers.

After all, would any intelligent business person want people who know nothing to very little about how business operates to select the leaders of an organization? Would any intelligent parent want people who know nothing to very little about education to select teachers for our children?  Of course not. We not only seek the most qualified candidates, but also entrust the hiring process to the most qualified people. Yet, it seems apparent that many of the people who are selecting our President and Vice-President know nothing or very little about how our government operates, what the important issues are, or even what they think about these. Even some of the candidates seem confused from time to time. 

Wake up, People! It is not just voting that matters, but how and why we vote that matters. We the People need to vote responsibly. This means taking responsibility for educating ourselves and each other about American governance, the parties, the candidates, and the issues. 

It means, unfortunately, taking the time to carefully sift through all the political subterfuge and spin to form our own opinions and make up our own minds about issues that matter to us individually and collectively. It means having civil conversations with people who do and don’t share our opinions with the intent to learn something from one another. It means augmenting our regular news sources (are there any real news sources anymore?) with news sources that offer different perspectives, not to bask in self-righteousness or test our gag reflexes, but to inform our opinions with other points of view that may challenge our thinking. 

Consider this as an anthropological experiment if you must, but if you’re only listening and speaking to others who share your point of viewif you have no interest in speaking to people who hold alternative perspectives except to change their minds, you are not voting responsibly.  If you refuse to change the channel from time to time, you are not voting responsibly. If you are voting against something or someone rather than voting for something or someone, you are not voting responsibly. If you are not doing your homework, but rather relying on others to make your decision for you, you are not voting responsibly. You are simply cheating yourself of the opportunity to be a full-fledged citizen of this great nation, and you are cheating all of us by refusing to take responsibility for one of your most important duties as a citizen.

Responsible voting means recognizing that elections should not be treated like beauty pageants where the prettiest wins or popularity contests where the most likeable wins or entertainment shows where the most engaging winshaving elected officials who are pretty, likeable, and engaging is nice, but these factors should not be the basis for selecting our political leaders. Nor should we vote for people because we imagine that they would be better dinner dates or drinking buddies. Seriously. And it’s not ok to cast our votes for a particular candidate because our spouse, parents, friends, and/or clergy told us to vote that way or told us not to vote that way.  That is just not good enough. 

This is the Presidency that we the People are deciding, so please, I implore you, whatever your political affiliations or inclinations, if you have not already done so, please educate yourself and vote responsibly. Ask yourself what you care about and how your vote not only serves your best interests, but the best interests of all the people in this country and beyond. Here are some resources to get you started:

Learn about our government.

If you haven’t done this in recent years, re-read The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and The Constitution.  Not only are these inspirational, but they remind us why our votes matter.  Learn about the different branches of government and the function of each.  Ben’s Guide, a guide to the U.S. Government is a great resource for learning about all of these and other aspects of governance here in these United States.

Learn about our political parties, issues, and candidates.  

Whatever your preferences, please take the time to learn about the various issues, parties and candidates, so you can make a more informed decision. You can learn about the parties, candidates, and their perspectives about the issues by going to their websites.

Learn about the facts. 

Don’t just believe what the politicians and pundits say. Their words are carefully crafted to persuade you rather than inform you, and sometimes the emperor has no clothes. Even if a candidate or commentator is truly sincere, he or she may still be terribly wrong. Check the facts.  FactCheck, a nonpartisan, nonprofit "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics by monitoring the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S.political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.

Engage in civil discourse.

Finally, if you haven't already done so, please learn how to engage in civil discourse with your fellow citizens, regardless of whether or not they share your point of view.  We can't hear each other when we're shouting. We the People are the change we need. We demonstrate what it really means to put country first by voting responsibly.