Making Informed Decisions at the Polls
American Apathy and the Consequences
Voter registration and low turnout at the polls is an ongoing problem in American Government. It is so widely known and studied that often in small-scale elections manipulating the voter turnout can help or hurt a candidate. For example putting a partisan issue on the ballot to get specific voters to the polls will slant the election in favor of one side over the other. This is only possible because the number of citizens that register to vote, take time to research the candidates, and actually cast their ballot is astonishingly low. At a turning point in American history the public is increasingly dissatisfied with our elected officials and the system is failing us. However; in a democracy such as this where the government is "By the people, for the people" who can we really blame if we are not involved in the process.
Danger of Apathy in the Democratic Process
Apathy is an epidemic that could very well destroy our democracy. Plato outlined this in his work "The Republic". He writes that of all forms of government democracy by design creates the laziest citizens. To elaborate further when individuals are given freedom they choose to do as they please and neglect civic duty. Egocentrism leaves us with a form of government that more closely resembles Aristocracy. The élite become better informed because of higher levels of education. This education leads to an understanding of the election process and they are then able to attain more power by monopolizing the vote. Legislation and policy eventually reflects the needs of the few and not the needs of the many. The decision to not participate as a voter is the right of every citizen but indirect consequences are inevitable.
Where is the Solution?
Recognizing the lack of interest in the election system is only half the battle. The real dilemma is how to resolve this and preserve democratic integrity. There have been countless studies conducted on voter apathy. They have resulted in several successful endeavors like Rock the Vote and similar organizations that target specific demographics and market voting campaigns to engage the voting population and encourage participation. These non-partisan organizations are essential to the solution and offer empirical observations to further the goal and get Americans to the polls. The current attempts to increase voter participation focus on encouragement and information as well as basic help with the registration process. Some even offer a ride to and from the polls for those lacking transportation. On the other hand there are rising discussions suggesting solutions that may prove controversial.
What if….Citizens were required to vote?
The concept of all able voters casting a ballot and being involved is certainly what we as a nation should work towards. But .. what if you forgot to vote and received a citation similar to a parking ticket for not scanning your driver's license at the polls on election day. Now comes the tricky part, the actual policy. Enacting a law requiring citizens to vote would require a means to avoid the inevitable; uninformed apathetic citizens controlling elections. Some citizens just aren’t informed enough to vote and some simply just don't care. As a passionate participant in our government and how it touches my life I would be nothing short of outraged if John Doe from down the road randomly checked boxes and his vote determined who would write the laws I live by. This is just one issue there are many including the infringement on personal liberty. On the other side of the coin however would a mandate be the ultimate encouragement and bring the political process to the forefront? Facing a fine or penalty many Americans may make an effort to educate themselves and realize just how important their involvement is.
The choice to participate in the process that defines our Nation is ultimately for the individual. Informative campaigns and voting assistance are making progress. In the future the issue of participation may become a thing of the past as the number of college graduates increase year after year. Being a citizen of the United States is an honor and while we value our freedom over all else participating in the hiring process for our governmental officials is vital to the freedom that defines our Nation.