Should the uninformed vote?
By Richard Elfers
Two questions came to my mind after I saw the results of the Nov. 3 elections: Do voters make good decisions in a democracy, or is it better that the uninformed not vote? And does the skill and knowledge that it takes to win an election actually serve that politician once in office?
At this time in an off-year election year, and with the presidential election looming in 2016, these questions are extremely relevant.
Since we have had elections in this country, the debate has raged over whether all adult citizens should vote or only those who are best educated and aware. At the beginning of this nation’s existence in the 1780s, only free, propertied adult white males over 21 years old were given the right to vote.
As this nation grew, the franchise was gradually extended to include all white adult males, then later, because of the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments after the Civil War, freed black adult males could, for a time, vote.
Later, with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, adult females were given the right to vote nationally.
Finally, in 1971, the 24th Amendment was ratified, giving 18-year olds the right to suffrage. This amendment passed due to the Vietnam War, when young soldiers under 21 were fighting and dying for their country without any input over who was leading them.
Based on the vast number of amendments that have been ratified regarding the expansion of voting rights, it seems that Americans believe the more people who vote the better it is for the nation. But is that really the case? As a civics and government teacher, as a former elected official and as an editorial pundit who writes about politics, I get very discouraged at times about the ignorance of the average American voter.
Because of my experiences, I have learned there is much that goes on in politics most voters are blithely unaware of. The attitudes of politicians, their decisions and their actions behind the scenes, take place without the average voter really knowing or understanding.
These attitudes, decisions and actions have an enormous impact upon all of us. Sometimes, when I see low voter turnout, I rejoice, because I know many voters are uninformed and would make bad decisions if they took time to vote. Other times, I’m deeply impressed the voters got the right message and made informed decisions that will benefit the greatest number.
For my second question, there are four skills necessary to be an excellent politician:
1) Sales and Marketing: Winning elections demands the ability to sell oneself, including your goals and perspectives, to the voter. Not all of us are good at marketing.
2) Coalition-building: Having the social and emotional intelligence to work with others who may differ from you to do what’s right for the public. Many lack these “people skills” and thus are poor representatives.
3) Advocacy: The ability to act as an intermediary between the constituent and the bureaucracy. The government bureaucracy is often stupid, selfish and rule-bound. There are some constituents who need help working through the Byzantine maze. That’s one skill all politicians need to serve their public.
4) Mental toughness: The maturity and the ability to deal with conflict in a constructive way. Politics is often a dirty business where solutions are messy. There must be the willingness for our elected representatives to get their hands and feet into the mud and to hold their noses to the stench of human nature in the raw.
Few people have all these skill-sets. As a result we have all the problems and scandals that political opponents bring to the surface before elections. Some are true, and some are manufactured to trick the voters into voting for them.
The answer to my first question is that those who proposed and ratified the amendments knew that the greater the participation in government, the greater chance of good results.
The answer to my second question is that it takes an elected official with a large toolbox of skills to be a successful politician. However, the system we have was so intelligently formulated that even when we have stupid and selfish public servants, good comes because the Constitution’s structure took human nature into account. We can be thankful to the Founders of this nation for that.
Richard Elfers is a columnist with the Courier Herald in Enumclaw, Bonney Lake and Sumner. He is an adjunct professor at Greenriver Community College, teaching high school completion civics and government, Culminating Project and continuing education classes on history and current events. He is a former Enumclaw city councilman.