It’s a political truism that Labor Day is when voters wake up and start paying attention to candidates and campaigns. But for the sizable portion of the citizenry that doesn’t vote, Labor Day–yesterday– just marks the beginning of fall.
In the run-up to this year’s municipal elections, I’ve participated in a number of conversations about these people who don’t vote–those who just skip local elections, turning out only in Presidential years and those who don’t participate at all.
As part of our upcoming “Electing the Future” project, NUVO and WFYI have focused on those non-voters. The whole committee of sponsors has searched for examples, in order to ask the obvious question: why?
The results have been interesting. Many of the people we found who admitted to never voting were unwilling to “come out” and be identified; they were obviously embarrassed, a response that suggests they know they are evading a civic responsibility. What was interesting is that they had the same excuse as those who were willing to participate in the effort we’ve dubbed “Make Me Care.” They explained that they “didn’t know enough” to feel confident about their votes.
Of course, it’s pretty obvious that many, many people who know very little nevertheless make it to the polls. (Just look at the open-ended responses to exit polls..) But using the excuse of civic ignorance raises a pretty important question, namely, what degree of information is necessary to make one a “good enough” voter?
The ideal voter, of course, would know a great deal about the candidates, the offices for which they are running, and the issues that are relevant to those offices, but very few of us meet that standard. One shortcut–used by a large number of voters–is party affiliation; if you know which political party stands for positions with which you generally agree, voting for members of that party is usually a safe way to express your general policy preferences.
In this internet era, a quick visit to the websites of the candidates will show what issues those candidates believe are important, and their approach to those issues and to the offices they seek.
Ultimately, of course, we all have to look at the candidates and judge whether they seem intent on improving the city (or state or nation), or whether they seem to be waging campaigns that are all about them. What does your gut tell you? Is this someone who wants to do something, or someone who wants to be someone?
Making that determination, and voting for the candidate who seems more interested in and capable of doing the job than in being important, probably makes you a “good enough” voter. And goodness knows, we need a lot more of those!