Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Do Your Patriotic Duty: DON'T Vote

Wait. Before you flip, just hear me out.

In 2006, a Southern California judge with 20 years’ experience on the bench was defeated at the ballot box by a bagel shop owner who had barely practiced law at all for 10 years prior. There were several factors involved, but the one observers kept coming back to: The sitting judge’s name was Dzintra Janavs and her opponent’s name was Lynn Diane Olson. And the theory that voters were taking stabs in the dark—
voting with no more information than the foreign sound of Janavs’ name—seemed to reign among experts inside and outside the local judicial circles.

I’m sorry to say I used to cast similarly stupid votes. I would get into the ballot box and feel that I was SUPPOSED to know more about all these judges and bond measures and ballot propositions and school board officials. I felt guilty that I hadn’t done more homework. So I would take my best guess.

I don’t do that anymore. My position has changed. In fact, it’s a lot like my approach to grammar: To hell with “supposed to know.” To hell with trying to deny my own ignorance. To me, the only thing worse than being ignorant about something is being so ashamed of my ignorance that I try to hide it and thereby compound my stupidity.

It’s okay to not know who a judge candidate is, just as it’s okay not to know what a predicate nominative is. In a perfect world, I would take the initiative to learn it all. But in this here world, there are cats to be played with and “Simpsons” reruns to be watched and names to be Googled.

I’m a C+ citizen.

So, yes, I’ll be going to the polls on Tuesday. Yes, I’ll be casting a ballot for president and in congressional races and on about 80% of the ballot initiatives. But that’s it. I did a lot of homework, but not enough to have an educated opinion on every issue. A Pasadena, Calif., school bond measure I’m leaving blank. (I’m baffled as to why there was no organized opposition on that one.) A state measure to fund some public transportation projects I’m leaving blank. (Normally, I’m a fan of public transportation projects, but with the state’s and residents’ money situations as they are, I just don’t feel I can intelligently weigh the pros and cons.) And no way am I voting for or against any judicial candidates I’ve never heard of. If I wanted a voice in those matters, I should have done my homework.

So, yes, voting is patriotic—but only if I’ve done my homework first.

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LL Blackwell said...

Okay, this is kinda late in the game. Sorry.

I totally agree with you. We are conditioned to think that we have to fill in all the blanks, but it turns out you don't have to!

On that note, regarding the Pasadena measure (I live here, too!), it seems that when no one can come up with a good reason why it's a bad idea, then isn't it an easy yes vote?

Of course, I guess it really comes down to how one feels about bonds, too.

June Casagrande said...

Yeah, I totally agree with the train of thought that leads to an easy yes vote on the school bond. But something gives me pause. Not about the measure -- about my weighing in on it. If it's an easy yes vote, then others more knowledgeable than I will vote yes.

For me, voting yes for no reason other than educated people are voting yes is worse than not voting at all. Either they have it sewn up, in which case they don't need me, or there's more to it than meets the eye, in which case my oversimplifying the issue could do more harm than good.

The voter's Hippocratic oath, perhaps: Above all, do no harm to judges with funny names.

: )

I don't know how I feel about bonds. You caught me in an odd year.

Adrian Morgan said...

[Note: If this is submitted twice, it's because I lost my connection just as I hit publish.]

I don't know a lot about how voting works in your country, and the idea of voting for judges and officials and initiatives sounds very strange to me.

In Australian federal elections, those of us who prefer to vote below the line in the Senate need to do a lot of research in order to do it properly. People who are content to let the politicians decide the details of their vote (i.e. over 95% of the population) vote above the line and have a much easier time of it.

At the last federal election, to vote below the line I had to place 46 candidates in an order of my choice. (first preference, second preference, third preference, etc), and in order to make an informed decision I researched all of the parties (i.e. glanced at their official websites). I could have saved myself the bother by voting above the line and effectively outsourcing the right to distribute my preferences to the political party of my choice, but unfortunately our system does not allow compromises - only a choice between one extreme and the other.

June Casagrande said...

Wow. This really opens my eyes as to how beneficial it would be to understand other countries' political systems. There's some real insight behind the system you described. But clearly, there are problems with it, too.

Yeah, voting for judges, in principle, is a good idea. Except that most people don't know jack about them.

Clearly, democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the others. (I botched that quote, didn't I?)


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