A ‘Don’t Get Out and Vote’ Campaign

October 22, 2012

by Cecil Bohanon, Ph.D.

Political Science professors, members of the League of Women Voters and good government folks agree that the percentage of eligible citizens who vote is the best measure of our “civic health.” They do have a point. Such groups generally support satellite locations for voting, same-day registration, no-ID requirements and a variety of other policies designed to increase voting participation. I am agnostic on all of these policies as I profess a social heresy: Some people should not vote. More to the point: It is not wise to encourage some to vote.

Before I find my head on a pike, 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, but with the right comes a duty that can only be self-enforced: the duty to be informed, to make the decision based on reason and with some attention to the larger interest.

In Federalist Paper #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.” This implies that voter self-restraint is more crucial to the survival of our republic than ever before.

Of course, any faction worth its salt can concoct a story as to why its interests are actually in the “interest of the community” and its adherents will usually drink the Kool-Aid. And the troublesome thing is that 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. Vote as if the future of the community and nation depend on your vote (it doesn’t, but that is another story).

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 of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is a professor of economics at Ball State University.


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