The right to vote becomes a moral obligation when voting is understood as fundamental to the functioning of our democracy. In Australia, voting is mandatory – and failure to vote is punishable by a fine or community service. But here, as many as 40% of eligible voters will stay home on Election Day.
Apart from voter apathy, the next biggest threat to the democratic experiment is our historical and current efforts to make it more difficult for certain racial and political blocs to vote – especially when voter fraud is a statistical myth. Only in the last century did we fully enfranchise women and African-Americans. But discredited practices designed to favor partisan votes – like gerrymandering and voter competency and ID tests – continue to undermine the right to vote.
To vote is easy. It’s choosing your candidate that isn’t.
Many people won’t vote for a party, an ideology, a narrative, or personality. I’m one of them – I vote for ideas and I don’t vote out of fear.
To vote responsibly is to rise above competing and seductive narratives. All parties oversimplify complex issues to win; some even invent them, appealing to latent fears, making up so-called facts, manipulating data, and even lying. This may seem new but it’s been going on forever.
The responsible voter considers all sides of an issue, separates truth from fiction, courts opposing viewpoints, and questions most of what he or she hears in campaign rhetoric. The campaign narrative is never the leadership narrative.
Ultimately, each of us must decide whether to cast our vote as a personal statement that won’t mean much to anyone but ourselves or to choose the best available person to lead us, which entails consideration and compromise. This test comes in the voting booth, where we deliberate whether to indulge ourselves to feel better, or commit to the risky business of choosing the best possible leader from the candidates available.
It’s true that your vote also matters to some who don’t have your best interests at heart. So far, a billion dollars has been contributed to support favored candidates but also to curry influence, while another half a billion dollars has flowed into super PACS.
But your vote can count if you let it – if you use it wisely and vote the best interests of your family and your country.