Please Vote — Or Don’t

November 6, 2011

Editors: The column is being distributed early to accommodate election-week news budgets. (506 words).

Now that the election is over, many of my academic colleagues may decry that turnout was too low. In their view, voter turnout is a measure of “civic health” and they will call for satellite locations for voting, same-day registration and a variety of other measures designed to increase voting rates in the next election. I, though, profess the following social heresy: Some people should not vote and it is not wise to encourage them to vote.

Before I am boiled in oil, let me indicate that this has nothing to do with the race, gender, class, age or political or ideological affiliation of the potential voters. I oppose any legal test to qualify voters. Voting is the right of all mentally competent non-felonious adults.

With that right, however, comes duties that can only be self-enforced. The voter has the duty to be informed, to make her decision based on reason and with some attention to the larger interest.

In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison identified the great threat to good government as the “vice of faction.” His definition of faction: a “number of citizens . . . united . . . by some common impulse of passion or of interest adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent or aggregate interest of the community.”   

He went on to note, however, that “Liberty is to faction, what air is to fire . . .” and that it is “folly to abolish liberty which is essential to political life.” We cannot remove the cause of faction but must try to limit its effect. Madison’s case for the U.S. Constitution rested, in part, on his assertion that oppressive factions are more likely to prevail at a local level than a federal level.

While this may have been true in the late 18th century, I don’t think it is true today. Indeed, all levels of government are riddled with numerous factions and coalitions bent on using the government for their own “passions and interest.”

Of course, any faction worth its salt can concoct a story as to why its interests are actually the “interest of the community” and its adherents will usually drink the Kool-Aid. And the damnable thing is what I see as the interest of the community, you see as a pernicious faction and vice-versa.

I doubt those who must be cajoled into voting are the cool, reasonable brokers of the interest of the community. To pressure misinformed voters to act on their unbridled passion is not a source of strength to a republican form of government — indeed, it is exactly what our form of government is trying to avoid.

If you do your homework, reflect, think and are critical of your own interests, then please DO vote, and vote as if the future of the community depends on your vote.

If on the other hand, if you do not understand the issues, if your passions are trumping your logic, if social conformity, peer pressure or making a fashion statement are the factors driving you to the polls — please DON’T vote.

Cecil Bohanon, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is a professor of economics at Ball State University.


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