The Tyranny of the Uninformed

The County of Alameda sample ballot has been lying on my kitchen table for over a month now, a not-so-subtle reminder of my biennial civic duty. When I proudly took my oath of citizenship three years ago, the right to vote was the most important factor in my decision to become an American. I consider myself a conscientious voter but, as another election rolls around, this responsibility evokes feelings akin to the recurring nightmare I have where I am at school, unprepared for an important test.

The choices for Governor and Senators are relatively easy, even if my information on the candidates has largely been acquired by way of negative ads, which have only offered me reasons not to vote for one candidate or the other.

The rest of the ballot is unfamiliar territory. Most of the candidates are unknown to me. How do I pick Superior Court Judges and Transit Supervisors? And what, exactly, does a Member, State Board of Equalization do? I haven’t even got to the nine Propositions on the ballot, some of which are going to influence my life in direct, immediate and, often, permanent ways.

It is not surprising that only 30-40% of eligible voters make the effort. When did we move from being a representative democracy to democracy by referendum? When did our legislature abdicate its powers to us?

Is it fair to ask the lay voter to be well-informed about the minutiae of government and policy?

Our representatives in Congress should have the responsibility and the authority to legislate on our behalf and appoint competent professionals to service positions. We, in turn, can express our opinion of their performance by our vote to keep or remove them from power. Limiting our choices to a few positions in government allows for depth of understanding and more informed decision making.

Instead, the balance of power and the onus of responsible governance have shifted from qualified members of the legislature to the uninformed voter, who often has to make snap decisions based on memorable political ads, recommendations from trusted friends, or even names that have ethnic resonance. This is a deeply flawed system that subjects citizens to the tyranny of, not the majority, but the hyper-partisan minority that cares enough to go to the polls.

Will I vote? Yes, and I hope you will too. But once the tough job of making informed choices in this particular election is done, we need to let our representatives know that we have had enough. We’re too busy doing our jobs to do theirs too.

Vidya Pradhan

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