LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: Education before voting

by Ruthie Kelly

By Ruthie Kelly, Editor in Chief

To vote or not to vote, that is the question. It’s a quandary that’s not as simple as it seems.

Before I was eligible to vote, I would have answered a simple, straightforward affirmative: Of course you should vote! It is your right and duty as a citizen of this great democracy! If you deliberately choose to ignore this most basic means of participation in our political process, you are giving the politicians and people in power an excuse to disregard your interests and needs; they will not be representing you because they will not know what you want! And other, even more idealistic abuses of exclamation points!

Which is not to say that voting is not all of those things, but it’s also something else that all the idealism in the world won’t change: A huge pain in the day planner.

I am not personally averse to the inconvenience of traveling to another location and standing in line to vote, although I can sympathize with those who say that effort alone makes it less than worth it, in an era when the vast majority of our transactions have been moved to some sort of online-mobile-drive-thru hybrid. I mean, if you’re not willing to put some sort of effort into voting, you probably don’t care very much about it anyway, which means you probably shouldn’t be voting. And if you’re willing to camp outside of Best Buy for 29 hours to save $500 on a flat screen, a few minutes wasted browsing your mobile Web while you’re waiting your turn to vote should be easy.

It’s not the actual act of voting that’s the most difficult part of this process. Like any responsible student of democracy, I am plagued by the worry that I have no idea what I’m doing.

Once you graduate high school and start to realize the sheer volume of little responsibilities, you start to wonder how in the world anyone has the time to sit down and absorb the information necessary to make an informed choice when voting. After credit card and utility bills, your presentation for Comm103, the third revision of your cover letter for that job you desperately want and need, balancing the checkbook and grocery shopping, you really don’t have the time or inclination to sit down and contemplate the minutia of the races before you.

How in the world am I supposed to know who is best qualified to serve on the county water board or the local community college district board? What do those people even do, and why in the world should their positions be filled by an election? Since when do we elect judges instead of appointing them? How do I know which county sheriff candidate is less evil?

These questions complicate my mental image of myself as a competent, even above-average, voter. I mean, not only do I know both my senators’ and my house member’s names, I know the first five in the line of presidential succession, can always name at least seven Supreme Court judges, and all my city council members. I deliberately make an effort to research all the local and state-level propositions, even if it only means reading the pros and cons from each campaign posted on the attorney general’s website. That puts me way ahead of the curve.

It’s depressing to realize that in spite of my position in the top 2 percent of voters in terms of being informed, that’s really more of a statement of how bad everyone else is than how awesome I am. I still have no idea what I’m doing in a significant number of races and issues. I rarely remember my state assembly and state senator representatives, and the more obscure local races elude me. I must constantly ask: Am I informed enough to really justify voting on this issue or person?

It’s a personal responsibility thing, bred out of hundreds of hours of reading freshmen term papers that misspell horrifyingly basic words (“This paper is really god”) and misunderstand basic tenants of our government (“After the president vetoes a bill, it goes to the Supreme Court to decide if it’s legal”). Those people shouldn’t be voting at all, but am I any better when it comes to choosing a city attorney? I pay attention because I think those races matter, but I must either take it on faith the local Democratic party properly vetted the “little guy” candidates and didn’t just fill it with the richest, most partisan person who filled out the paperwork on time (HA), or abstain.

So I’m going to advocate something that you don’t normally hear in the midst of all this Get-Out-The-Vote enthusiasm directed at our demographic: Don’t vote if you have no idea what’s going on. Seriously. I’m not saying don’t vote at all, nor should you use your ignorance as an excuse for your apathy, especially because the issue you are holding in your hand is a convenient starting point for the “big” races. But if you haven’t had the time to visit the clue machine by now, just save your quarters for another day. All you and I are doing when we pick a random name (which, conveniently enough for those blessed by alphabetical destiny, is usually the person at the top of the list) is diluting and destroying true democracy. That would be not to vote just for voting’s sake, but because you are making a truly informed, deliberate decision.

So, go forth and make a difference. Just make sure you’re doing it the right way.

—Ruthie Kelly is a journalism senior.

—This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.