Monday, August 30, 2010

Restoring the Importance of Voting

The most pressing problem in society may be the fact that the ability of the general population to logically and objectively analyze a given specific issue has diminished. In society when faced with two contradicting pieces of information regarding a single issue, most people do not have the tools or desire to attempt to identify what is correct and what is incorrect about those conflicting point in effort to reject one or both of the premises. The inability to identify correct solutions to problems has created huge levels of inefficiencies in society where time is wasted debating issues that are not legitimate debates and expending resources on ineffective ideas. The seeming lack of analytical ability in the general populous is compounded by the fact that those in power reject utilitarianism instead favoring selfish actions that maintain their power base.

For example one may individually believe that the first duty of a U.S. Senator is to the constituents of the state he/she serves, but such a belief is wrong. The first duty of a U.S. Senator is to the United States. Even beyond the moral argument logic dictates that even if the Senator from State A has to vote on a bill that may be detrimental to State A, but overall beneficial to the U.S. then it is the correct action because a stronger U.S. will eventually turn the detriment into a benefit in State A. [A strong U.S. – Federal Government with more resources – More Federal assistance to states – larger state budgets to improve social services, education, infrastructure, etc. creating more opportunities for growth]. However, a benefit to State A at the detriment to the U.S. will eventually turn the benefit to a detriment along similar lines to those above, just in reverse order.

Therefore, why aren’t Senators and members of the House focused on taking actions that benefit the U.S. over passing earmarked and ‘pork’ bills that generate heavy state-only benefits? One explanation could be that members of Congress care more about keeping their seat (power) than facilitating a stronger U.S. even though it may involve making some tough and uncomfortable decisions. This lack of courage is only one reason for such action; ironically the reason courage matters in the first place is that lack of public will to do the work and analyze the myriad of solutions typically offered for a problem. Without an effective analysis of what is probable and not probable within the solutions offered for a given problem, individuals look for the easiest way to make a choice, a methodology that usually comes down to looking at best short-term benefit for the particular individual with little regard for future prospects. It is not surprising that most people would want 10 dollars now over 50 dollars a year from now. The sad thing is that future considerations are extremely important to a prosperous society.

So what steps can be taken to ameliorate this problem? The ideal response would be logical and thorough education demonstrating the benefits of such analysis in real-world conditions and situations in effort to make permanent changes to the psychological thought process. Unfortunately making logical and rational arguments to groups of individuals who do not appear willing to hear them may simply be a waste of time. More drastic measures may be required, such as a form of negative incentive to change this behavior. For example one method which should garner sufficient attention is to eliminate the non-informed voter.

In a democracy, direct or indirect, voting should be viewed as one of the most important privileges of citizenship and something that is meaningful in because of the associated power and responsibility involved. Unfortunately this attitude is not as prevalent as it should be in U.S. society. One reason for this apathy to the importance of voting may be the simple fact that there is no real cost to voting. It is an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that the more something costs the higher a person values it. So what if a cost is added to voting, one that could also work to counter the original analysis problem?

If a ‘cost’ is going to be assigned to voting it must be a fair, equal and transparent cost. Clearly anything that can be tied back to financial means is unacceptable. The best option may be to opt for something simple such as a 5 to 10-minute identification test. Basically voters must fill out a form signifying that they actually understand the basic premise of each issue on ballot by identifying those issues. For example if asked what Proposition 85 is, the voter would have to demonstrate rudimentary knowledge about what would happen if Proposition 85 passed. Failure to successfully identify 70% of the issues/candidates should result in the inability to cast a ballot. To ensure all potential voters have ample opportunity to prepare for the ‘competency’ exam, sufficient information by way of pamphlet could be made available for free at all appropriate federal or educational institutions (post offices, courthouses, libraries, etc.); pamphlets could also be acquired via mail or email request, be available on-line and be periodically published in local newspapers (once in September and once/twice in October). Of course it would be advisable that all paper pamphlets would be processed out of 100% recycled material to avoid unnecessary cost and waste.

One of the more important remaining issues with the above idea is that there may be some form of legal challenge via the 14th amendment due to the ability of such a ‘test’ to restrict voting ability. However, it is questionable whether or not such a challenge would succeed because the necessary resources available to pass the ‘test’ are widely available through mediums that have accessible costs to someone of any income level, thus due process concerns should be satisfied as long as political bias does not become widespread at polling stations during the election period.

Overall if individuals actually have to become aware of what they are voting for, this ‘scratching the surface’ methodology may even increase the probability that former apathetic voters explore ballot related issues further. Further exploration would demand some form of analysis, which would better reduce resistance to analysis of other non-ballot related issues and problems in society. Unfortunately there are some ‘coulds’ and ‘mays’ in the above statements, but at least attacking the lack of cost in voting, especially the nonchalant/apathy element, is an easy way with a high probability to genuinely make some headway when addressing this analysis issue. Even in the worse case scenario the above process reduces the prevalence of the completely uninformed voter, reducing the probability of hearing the post-voting lament, ‘I didn’t know who/what I was voting for…’.

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