The Cost of Voting

This afternoon on nola.com, Jarvis DeBerry has a piece complaining about the length of yesterday’s ballot in New Orleans. Secretary of State, Tom Schedler has also complained about this. Well, I respectfully disagree.

First, it’s not like the ballot and its contents were published just this week. The races, amendments, and other ballot measures have been available to review for months. There are numerous sources online and offline that explain them, and in case you somehow managed to avoid all the campaign ads, the date for the election has been known for more than a year. So, that yesterday was an election should not have come as a surprise to anyone unless they suddenly awoke from a coma.

Second, elections are how we decide our overlords and choose whether or not to change our state constitution and local laws. As a result, voters should be expected to put some effort and thought into who or what they’re going to vote for. Thinking you can just show up on election day and figure it out is certainly one strategy, but it is certainly not a good strategy for making any kind of educated choice. I do not think it’s too much to ask for voters to be expected to make a decision before they get in the voting booth. That way, it’s pretty quick to make your selections once you actually get in front of a ballot.

I also find the complaints a bit ironic. We are bombarded by friendly and not-so-friendly reminders to vote, expensive get-out-the-vote drives, and ongoing arguments over voter id and access to the polls. Yet, God forbid some poor voter show up at the polls who hasn’t cared to get informed and discover a long and involved ballot that requires more than simply choosing their party of choice.

If the numbers show that significantly fewer people voted for the amendments and ballot measures than for Senator, what that tells me is that people were voting responsibly. I make a point to do my homework before every election, but even I sometimes choose not to vote on matters I truly don’t understand or have a preference. And you know what? That’s ok.

What is not ok is presuming that a long and involved ballot is something that voters can’t or shouldn’t have to deal with. Even if the odds are extremely small that any one vote will impact an election, exercising the right to vote means something. It means more than just showing up and picking your tribe over the other one. If we are to have a government that is governed by the people, then the least the people can do is educate themselves on how they’re choosing to be governed. I trust that the voters are more than capable of handling this task, and more than that, they must be trusted with it.

Finally, I do understand the frustration with a long list of proposed amendments. At a minimum, they do need to be worded in a clear way that people can understand. This year I thought they were worded fine and I didn’t have any trouble understanding the language during my research. However, that is certainly a fluid dynamic to be monitored. Nevertheless, Tom Schedler’s proposal to limit the number of amendments per ballot is something I oppose. Do we have too many proposed amendments to the Constitution? Maybe. But even if we do, how can anyone predict beforehand what the proper number should be in any given year?

Instead of griping about the length of the ballot, or proposing to shorten it, or assuming that people can’t or don’t want to deal with it, remember what voting is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be an integral part of our system of government, and as such, for those who choose to participate, it shouldn’t be too much to ask to do some homework before you show up.

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