Denver Bar Association
October 2004
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Leave the Voting to the Professionals

by Doug McQuiston

It’s time again for that bemusing quadrennial extravaganza, the presidential election season. You may remember the 2000 election season. The candidates toured. Summer turned to autumn. The candidates debated. Leaves fell. Chads hung (hanged?).

It was a different world then, wasn’t it? In 2000, the word "terrorism" all but never came up. We were in a war then, too, of course, it having been declared by bin Laden in 1997. We just didn’t pay attention, so we weren’t shooting back. Sure, we thought, there have always been people out there who don’t like us. The world has never loved America, even as its people have flocked to it. In the old days (before 9/11), this didn’t seem to matter so much.

Now, there is no doubt. As we watched the buildings fall, our eyes were pried open to the reality that there are people in the world who have gone way past wishing us ill; they want to kill us. We no longer have the luxury of denial. We can do nothing that will change our enemies’ desire for our extermination. We cannot disengage. We can’t withdraw from the world and hope they leave us alone. We can’t try to understand them. We can’t reason with them. They will not quit. If given a chance, they will kill as many of us as they can before they are forcibly stopped.

The world is a different place for Americans in 2004 than it was in 2000. Now, more than ever, who governs our nation, and how they go about it, matters.

As the political party conventions give way to the final months of the campaigns, you will see the editorials lamenting our pathetic voter turnouts. You’ll almost trip over the voter registration drives at your local supermarket. Earnest television pundits will all nod gravely that "every vote counts."

But you won’t likely hear any of them comment on the importance of informed voting. But I will talk about that. Every chance I get.

Sure, every vote counts, now more than ever. But the thought that maybe hundreds of thousands of voters will flock to the polls like lemmings and yank the lever (or punch the chad) with nothing more in their brains than what they saw in the last campaign ad, frankly scares the Hell out of me. Now, more than ever, an ignorant vote, an uninformed, vote, is infinitely worse than no vote at all.

So I issue this challenge: if you don’t plan to invest hours doing research, reading the political essay magazines, reading the newspapers, watching cable news, then giving it all some sober thought, or doing the other heavy lifting that a representative democracy requires of you, do us all a favor and stay home on Election Day. Watch it on TV and leave the voting to the professionals.

You live in a democracy. Right now, on the other side of the world, people are literally dying to get the rights you take for granted. If you can’t bother to thoroughly inform yourself on the major issues facing your country, your state, your county, or your town, and aren’t willing to take the time to find out where the candidates stand, or what they’d do if elected, then please don’t pull the lever.

No matter how busy you are, you have the time to get educated. None of us keep up with current events as well as we should, but way too many of us succumb to campaign ads and 30-second sound bites. Why do you think both sides use misleading or negative ads? Because demagoguery works. How else can we explain Michael Moore or Rush Limbaugh? As a participant in our Republic, you owe your country an obligation to ignore, or even confound, the demagogues.

But you can’t hope to do that by just tuning into the mindless pundit drool on network and cable news. They aren’t a substitute for rigorous research and disciplined thought. If all you know about the candidates, or what is going on in the world, comes from a Michael Moore movie or Rush Limbaugh shows, you are not fulfilling your duties as a citizen.

Being an American of voting age is a matter of chronology. Being an American who votes is a calling. This country depends, now more than ever, on an informed, reasoned, and thoughtful electorate. The margin of victory for the winning candidate in this election, even if it is a "landslide," will likely be less than a few hundred votes per precinct. In some precincts, the margin will be a vote or two.

Election margins have grown so thin that the informed vote is no longer certain to overcome the ignorant vote. We can’t throw away votes on a whim or drop the lever based on the last attack ad we see before we get to our polling place. The nation can no longer afford ignorance in the voting booth.

So make your choice. If you intend to vote, choose to get fully informed. Start now. Become a foreign policy expert. Go through your tax returns for the last five years and consider whether you’d like to pay more or less in taxes. Turn off your radio and pick up a copy of The National Review or The Economist. Hell, read them both. Take a look at the Homeland Security or CIA websites for updates on the war on terror and descriptions of the threats we face. Read the 9/11 Commission Report. Read the candidates’ position papers. Then vote like your life depends on it, because it does.

If you’re not prepared to do that, do your country a favor and stay home. We’ll vote for you.

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