By Richard Lim, Peace and Security Issue Analyst

“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.”
– Thomas Jefferson

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the
average voter.” – Winston Churchill

Every two years the American people are barraged ad nauseum with ads, fliers, mailers, phone calls, and bumper stickers reminding them to get out the vote. Vote because this election is the most important in history! Vote because your children depend on it!

Indeed, voting is an indispensible element of a republic. For those who have emigrated from nations where sham elections are the rule rather than the exception, voting means much more. It could mean a family member or a friend who went to prison because they demanded their basic rights. Too often we forget the blood, sweat, and tears that made our suffrage possible.
Even in free nations, the electoral process turns voting into a mere tactic in the game of politics. The nature of the political horserace results in an endless chase for votes and money over a quality discourse on the nuances of policy. There is no incentive for our leaders to educate the public. In that sense, it is all the more crucial that voters take it upon themselves to know the issues and to know whom they are entrusting with the people’s business.

The Founders understood the importance of an enlightened citizenry and accordingly promoted the merits of education. Implicit in this is the notion that, while informed voters are the only hope for a republic, ignorance and misinformation would endanger the republican experiment. Throughout history, voters have empowered great leaders like Lincoln and Churchill, but they also sanctioned corrupt, pseudo-dictators like Hugo Chavez, Ferdinand Marcos, and Alberto Fujimori. Let’s be honest and ask ourselves, are there times when an ignorant electorate is more dangerous than an apathetic one?

The problem with voter drives is that they are missing one key message: vote, but be INFORMED. Sometimes, being informed means knowing what you don’t know. There is no shame in abstaining on that one issue or local race that you didn’t read up on. I have argued this before and my idea was immediately compared to Jim Crowe laws. That misconstrues my argument. I am not arguing that people shouldn’t vote or have the right to vote. I am arguing, in the spirit of the Founders, that suffrage is a right that entails responsibility. Voting should not be a mere manipulative tactic, a popularity contest, or a hip trend among youth. It is a sacred trust.