We are what are called ‘voters,’ period.


I liked this Tweet from Nu Wexler this morning:

Amen to that, Nu!

I’ve written about this a few time before, but to me, standing in line with my neighbors — some of whom I might not see years on end otherwise — is a core experience of citizenship, a moment when the communitarian element of life in our republic is most palpable. It makes me feels kind of like a character in a Frank Capra movie.

Not to condemn folks who vote early, because so many of them have good reasons. But those who do so simply in order to avoid the Election Day experience are in many cases — I suspect; I have no data to support this — somewhat more likely to think of themselves as consumers rather than citizens. I’ve had some things to say about that as well.

As I wrote awhile back:

I think this country is full of people — left, right, and middle — who don’t take voting seriously enough. This is why I oppose early voting, and virtual voting, and just about anything other than heading down to the polls and standing in line with all your neighbors on Election Day, being a part of something you are all doing together as citizens. I believe you should have to take some trouble to do it. Not unreasonable amounts of trouble, just some…

So I was happy to reTweet Nu this morning with an enthusiastic “Yes!” And was gratified when my friend Mary Pat Baldauf Tweeted this, apparently in response:

As I replied, what we should be properly called is “voters,” period. Voters who take the process seriously, and cherish and savor it.

The queue at my polling place in 2008.

The queue at my polling place in 2008.

Oh — one other, somewhat related, point: Robert Samuelson had a column recently urging us all to “Split your ticket.” I still marvel that voting for candidates of more than one party is sufficiently rare (shockingly rare, in fact) as to be remarked upon, and have a special name.

You know what I call ticket-splitting? “Voting.” True voting, serious voting, responsible voting, nonfrivolous voting. I am deeply shocked by the very idea of surrendering to a party your sacred duty to pay attention, to think, to discern, to discriminate, to exercise your judgment in the consideration of each and every candidate on the ballot, and make separate decisions.

If you don’t go through that careful discernment, you aren’t a voter, you are an automaton — a tool of the false dichotomy presented by the parties, a willing participant in mindless tribalism.

Sure, you might carefully discern in each case and end up voting only for members of one party or the others. And that’s fine — kind of weird, given the unevenness of quality in both parties’ slates of candidates — but if that’s where you end up.

But pressing the straight-ticket button, without going through the ballot and making individual decisions in each race — that’s unconscionable, and an abdication of your responsibility as a citizen…


33 thoughts on “We are what are called ‘voters,’ period.

  1. Harry Harris

    As often happens, your elitist tendencies shine through. Possibly surprising to you, there are a lot of citizens who have minor interest in politics and even more who have never been paid to nurse their interest. Go ahead and enjoy your civic event. Take all the pleasure and pride you can; Just be careful not to look down on those who might take less pride and view it more as a chance to advance their hopes and chances a little and need to work it into a crowded life.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      If by “elitist,” you mean that I’d rather only voters who DO take interest in politics, who take their responsibility as citizens seriously, and make the effort to learn about the candidates and issues, vote… then that’s what I am.

      Low-information, can’t-be-bothered voters can do no good for our republic.

      And I have to say that it worries me to see two of your phrases in the same comment: “citizens who have minor interest in politics” and “who might take less pride and view it more as a chance to advance their hopes and chances a little.”

      Maybe you weren’t talking about the same voters in those two instances. But to the extent that your were, I have to say I’m particularly concerned at the idea of low-information voters motivated by self-interest. That’s kind of a toxic combination.

      If you doubt me, consider all those Trump voters out there who are completely uninterested in facts, and are voting to “make American great again” for themselves and “people like them”…

      1. Harry Harris

        What about “wrong information” voters? Often they’ve taken interest in politics, watched and listened only to Fox News and consider it their responsibility to save the country based on numerous false claims. Should they be restricted or discouraged from voting? I’m sure you’re aware of the two studies questioning news consumers about hard facts covered in the news. Those who got most of their news from NPR scored highest by far, newspapers were somewhat lower, ABC, etc were middle of the pack. Those who used Fox news as their main source were last, below the group who regularly watched or read no news at all. What about voters who give up their voting sense to a religious organization or church and vote only the slate their primary contact group supports? While I might not like the direction of voting by any disinformed group, I favor encouraging them to vote early, late, or absentee.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Also, I remind you of what I said above:

      “Not to condemn folks who vote early, because so many of them have good reasons. But those who do so simply in order to avoid the Election Day experience are…” the ones who worry me.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        As to my other point, about pulling the straight-ticket lever — there ARE no good reasons to do that. It’s an abdication of the obligation to think before voting.

        And yes, I know some of my interlocutors believe that ALL of the candidates of their party are ALWAYS better that ALL of the candidates of the other party. But I don’t see how anyone can seriously expect me to accept that — there’s just far too much information out there to the contrary…

        1. Claus

          So instead of pushing the Straight Party button, you just individually went down the list and selected the Democratic candidate?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Seriously? You’re addressing that to ME? Have you ever read this blog?

            Normally, I vote for more Republicans — although that’s just because of where I live.

            THIS year, though, the Dems will get a slight edge from me. I’ve got two races in which I’ll definitely vote for the Democrat, and one in which I’ll definitely vote for the Republican.

            The others… I’m not even sure I’ll vote on them. I know I won’t vote for any of the people on the ballot who are unopposed for county offices. And I’m still trying to find out more about the school board people.

            And then there’s Congress. It’s a joke, the way we draw the lines. Joe Wilson will have that seat as long as he wants it. Perhaps I should vote for Mr. Bjorn as a protest against the inevitability of it all, the way I did with Bob Dole. But I also have a problem with people choosing Congress as their very first elective office. Maybe, in that case, I should vote for Wilson as a protest against Bjorn’s presumption. I don’t know… I suppose I’ll have to decide by tomorrow…

      2. Doug Ross

        An informed voter is an informed voter regardless of when the vote is cast. Do you actually spend your time in line debating the issues with the people around you? Standing in line for an hour doesn’t measure anything but your availability to do so.

        When I ran for school board, I saw just how uninformed the public can be on election day. Way too many people told me they voted for me just because I happened to be standing outside the polling place.

        Let’s make the ballots all write in and see how that works out. I’m sure Obama would get a bunch of votes. Vote totals for school board would probably be 10% of what they currently are. How many people would actually know Joe Wilson’s name to write it in?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Doug, I think that is a VERY intriguing idea.

          Of course, as you say, a lot of people would write in Obama — and others would write in Trump.

          POTUS and The Donald could end up both getting elected to Lexington Two school board. Which would be… interesting…

          1. Jeff Mobley

            If “write-in only” were actually implemented, it would probably make sense to have it be “registered write-in” as is the case for many states that allow write-in votes now. It’s a write-in vote, but it’s only counted if the candidate has filed the appropriate paperwork (though in some states the deadline for filing said paperwork is after the election).

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, y’all, I take my franchise so seriously that there are quite a few races in which I just don’t vote. I suspect some of y’all are the same.

    I just don’t think I should ALLOW myself to vote in the races I know little about. I don’t think it’s right to resort to name-recognition and other such foolishness.

    For instance… as of this moment, I don’t see how I’m going to be able to vote for anyone for Lexington Two School Board — unless I can learn some more between now and tomorrow morning. I know next to nothing about those candidates.

    I feel bad admitting that. But it seems that not voting isn’t as bad as voting with insufficient information to make at least a moderately informed decision…

    1. Claus

      I want to know why the Coroner’s race and the Clerk of Court race are party affiliated. Would a Republican Coroner do a better job than a Democrat or Independent Coroner? Clerk of Court… you’re elected to process and file paperwork… a “clerk”.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        There IS no good reason. It’s total nonsense.

        It’s not only absurd that we elect them in partisan elections, but that we elect them at ALL. They’re not policymaking positions, or shouldn’t be. County Council or the county administrator should hire those positions.

  3. Mark Stewart

    There are states, even politically lopsided ones, that do not facilitate straight-party voting.

    I voted early for the first time this year; the polls were crowded and instead of just seeing my immediate neighbors, I had the opportunity to see the breadth of my town’s citizenry – and it was the first time I had considered them as voters; as people I saw voting at the polls. I’d highly recommend the experience. Precinct voting can appear kind of monolithic sometimes. It was a refreshing change, actually.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author


      Of course, as I said today, I suspect EVERY time Hillary’s emails come up (including yesterday), it hurts her.

      But let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say it HELPED her when Comey passed on prosecuting her back in the summer, then it HURT her when he reopened the investigation 10 days ago, then HELPED her when he said there was nothing to these emails, either.

      If you voted last week, you therefore had a completely different set of information (with regard to that one issue) from what I will have tomorrow.

      Let’s also acknowledge that Comey could easily have said in his letter yesterday, “There’s a problem here. We see significant evidence to take to a grand jury.” Or whatever. The bottom line is, I will have a more complete picture than people who voted last week had…

      1. bud

        Bull. I haven’t learned anything new about POTUS candidates in about a year. Early voting adds a certain amount of ballast to the process. Big events at the last minute aren’t fresh in all the voters minds.

      2. Claus

        I hear the FBI hired professional speed readers to go through the 650,000 e-mails in just a matter of a week or so.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      And here are those three paragraphs to which Jeff refers:

      But my main problem with early voting is different. Every day we hear pious actors, activists, and politicians talk about the solemn and sacred duty to vote, and yet everyone wants to make voting easier and more convenient. Many still dream of the most cockamamie idea of all: online voting, so we can make choosing presidents as easy as buying socks on Amazon.

      This gets human nature exactly backward. Nothing truly important, never mind sacred and solemn, should be treated as a trivial convenience. Churches that ask more of the faithful do better at attracting and retaining congregants. The Marines get the best and most committed recruits because they have higher standards. Elite schools demand more from students and get more as a result. No wonder one study found that early voting actually lowers turnout because it makes Election Day seem like a less-special event.

      Of course we shouldn’t put up any insurmountable obstacles to voting. But if we want citizens to value their vote, why are we constantly lowering the price?

  4. Bill

    I ”take the process seriously, and cherish and savor it” – but don’t believe the vote I cherish and savor has to be delivered on “Election Day”.

    As for how voters vote, you disqualified yourself from commenting on that when you called voters who vote straight ticket “sinners against democracy” who should be prohibited from voting. Anybody who even suggests taking away someone’s right to vote has a stunted, country club attitude toward democracy.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Ah, but as you can see, I only proposed to take away the right from those who have willfully thrown it away already. A person who hits the button for straight ticket isn’t voting; he’s completely surrendering his responsibility to decide to a party…

      1. Bill

        I really do begin to suspect that you would essentially agree with Bill Buckley, who in his 1965 Oxford debate with James Baldwin, infamously said that the problem in Mississippi isn’t that not enough Blacks are allowed to vote, but that too many whites are.

      2. Claus

        I propose that we go back to having to own property in order to vote. Freeloaders are just looking to retain their leechism.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          That might be something you could make a case for in places where property owners pull their weight.

          But in South Carolina, thanks to Act 388, homeowners pay NO property taxes to support school operations.

          And as a result of that, renters are paying MORE property taxes, through their increased rent, since landlords don’t get that tax break.

          So in that sense, in that instance, renters have more of a stake in the system, and more right to a say, than homeowners…

  5. Norm Ivey

    I, too, enjoy the duty of standing in line to vote (up to a point). I get that sentiment entirely. But making voting easier by allowing early or absentee voting is vitally important. Ignoring the need for such opportunities ignores the fact that there are lots of folks out there who don’t have the same flexibility or ease as many of us do in our jobs. And it is some trouble to find out where to go to vote absentee, and I believe there is an additional form that must be signed, so it’s no less trouble than standing in line to vote on THE day. Suggesting that those people don’t take it as seriously as those who vote on the assigned day is just a bit over the top, I think.

    I share your concern about uninformed (or worse, misinformed) voters, but rather than wishing those people didn’t vote, I’d rather find ways to get those people educated so they make wise choices. Unfortunately, it seems that both parties rely on these voters in order to win races.

  6. David Carlton

    “I didn’t vote early because I love the election day experience. Waiting in line, seeing who has signs out, and getting the #iVoted sticker.”

    I waited in line, saw who has signs out and got the “I voted” sticker–two weeks ago! Sorry, but I really find this silly. Early voting is just as much a civic event as doing it on The Day. I do have to drive to the polling place instead of walking down the street, voting, and rewarding myself with a mocha at Bongo Java across the street (there’s no coffee house near the Green Hills Library). But the electorate there isn’t much different from what I’d see at Belmont U; in fact I’m more likely to run into a colleague at the GHL. The line is definitely shorter than some I’ve been trapped in, however. Above all, it does make voting easier for a lot of people–I know you think that voting *should* be an obstacle course, but then I’m a (D)(d)emocrat.

  7. Doug Ross

    I am going into full blackout mode from 5 pm to midnight tonight. No TV, no internet. Just going to take a walk, read a book, maybe go see a movie and then be surprised by the results.

    I hope it’s over by midnight but my guess is we’ll be waiting on Florida till then. If Trump wins Florida, he’ll either make it a nailbiter or at least finish around the Romney zone for electoral votes.

    My only prediction is that neither candidate will break 50% of the total popular vote. Which is good.

  8. Pingback: Recent conservative propaganda wins – Aqua Rusa

Comments are closed.