Join the Crowd

By Louis R. Avallone

If there was ever a good example of how an uninformed electorate got it completely wrong, it would be when Jesus and Barabbas stood before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and a large crowd of people. Despite Pontius Pilate looking for the facts to support the charges against Jesus, and asking the crowd for any evidence whatsoever of his crime, the crowd had made up its mind – without the facts. Their loud shouting to crucify him was based on “some things they had heard” from others, and as a result, they got it wrong.

So, when there’s talk in Washington, D.C. by the President about a Constitutional amendment to make it mandatory for everyone in the “crowd” to vote, under the penalty of law, it warrants a closer look.

The President said last month that mandatory voting would place young, lower-income, immigrant, and minority groups into the polls, and then he went on to imply somehow that young, lower-income, immigrant, and minority groups cannot get into the polls now.

Of course, that’s not entirely true – and that’s putting it politely. Consider that black voters in 2012 voted at a higher rate than whites for the first time in American history, according to a Census Bureau report. In 2008, 5.8 million more minorities “somehow” got into the polls, compared to 2004 minority voting, and then in 2008, fewer whites went to the polls by almost 1.2 million.

If you’re scratching your head right about now, like Pontius Pilate standing before the “crowd” of folks shouting “crucify him”, and you’re wanting to make sense of this talk of mandatory voting, you’re not alone.

For millions of Americans, the privilege to vote is not a compulsory requirement to vote. Although millions of Americans have sacrificed their lives to protect this privilege, voting for the sake of voting, is not enough. Along with the privilege to vote comes the responsibility to become informed, as much as possible, regarding the issues being voted upon and the candidates being elected.

For example, if you were being wheeled into the emergency room, would you choose a doctor whose practice of medicine was based on what he or she had “heard from others” or whatever feels right? Or would you choose a doctor who treats patients based on scientific methods, drawing from the best available evidence? The first doctor means well, of course, but isn’t helping a bit, and neither is the uninformed voter pulling the lever in the voting machine based on what they “heard from others”.

Now there are some folks in the “crowd” who would mention that we compel citizens to perform some civic duties, and they will bring up jury duty, to support the notion of mandatory voting. That’s true, and our mandatory jury duty system is effective, and is supported by the Thirteenth Amendment. But consider if you had a friend, or a loved one, whose guilt or innocence was being determined by jurors who were not well informed of the evidence supporting the charges? Juries are well informed about the trial issues because it would be immoral to ask any juror to vote on a matter unless they were knowledgeable of what they were voting on. Still, even after all that, any juror can choose not to vote, at all.

And so it should be the same with the American people in our elections. We should retain the right not to vote, despite our civic duty to do so.

Military service is considered a civic duty also. However, the U.S. ended the draft in 1973 and then we converted to an all-volunteer military force. During the 50’s and 60’s, the draft forced some people into the military that simply were not yet prepared to serve in the military, and this increased the rate of turnover, since these same coerced folks reenlisted at much lower rates than the volunteers did. Moreover, these involuntary soldiers often diminished the morale of their unit, and caused discipline problems, as well.

Without the draft, however, the statistics reflect that we now have the highest quality military personnel in our nation’s history. Our military force is better educated today than the draft-era recruits, and our military is more capable than ever before.

By comparison, would a mandatory voting law force some folks into the polls that are simply not yet prepared to vote, because they are not knowledgeable of what they are voting on, like the folks who were forced to enlist in the military, but were not yet prepared to serve? Would forced voting ensure that the voters know enough, or care enough, to vote? Would that increase the morale of our country or produce a better election outcome?

Or would it diminish the voice of the volunteer voter at the polls – drowned out by the crowd of coerced voters instead?

Of course, we teach our children not to follow the “crowd”, and maybe that’s because of stories like that of Pontius Pilate and Jesus, where the “crowd” got it so very wrong. But there’s something to that lesson – the “crowd” was uninformed and unprepared, and no law could have changed that 2,000 years ago, nor can it today, for it takes nothing to join the crowd, but it takes everything to stand alone and honor your civic duty – even if that means not voting at all.

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