Seattle Times story about candidates' voting records is a good piece of civic journalism, but when I get to marking my ballot, it's not something I'm going to care about.
Civil disagreements, with Lynne Varner and Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times editorial board, is a weekly feature of the Ed Cetera blog. Here Bruce and Lynne weigh in on the importance of voting.
Bruce Ramsey: Lynne, the Seattle Times story about candidates’ voting records is a good piece of civic journalism, but when I get to marking my ballot, it’s not something I’m going to care about.
The argument seems to be that we should care about civic involvement, and that voting is part of that. It’s a small part. An easy part. And my colleagues, in arguing with me about this, reply, “So why didn’t they do it?” I don’t know. Does it matter?
The interesting question is not why people fail to vote; it’s why they bother. I vote, though if I were challenged to prove my vote did anything, I don’t think I could. In King County, it’s one vote out of hundreds of thousands. The world goes on the same whether I vote or not. Why do it? I can give you a fancy answer about participating in democracy, and civic involvement, and all that High School social studies stuff, but it’s embarrassing to offer it. I vote because I l ike the idea of it. It pleases me. I can talk about who I voted for, and why I did, and I can write sentences like this.
If Joe Mallahan has had different priorities, I can’t really fault him. What is the more important in making him mayor: That he voted? Or that he knows the city? Or that he read the newspaper? Or that he was involved in civic organizations? Or that he’s collected endorsements? Or that he was involved in business management and has a certain managerial style? Or that (in Mike McGinn’s case) that he was head of a chapter of the Sierra Club or head of the Greenwood Community Council or involved in the practice of law in Seattle?
Of all those things, voting is the least important.
Lynne, some of these candidates are going to win political power over me. I’m going to care about what they believe, what they know, how they deal with people, what obligations they have and to whom, what virtues and vices they have, and what they do. I’m not going to be worring about whether they voted.
Lynne Varner replies: So voting is no big deal? Is the American flag just another piece of cloth?
It is important that these candidates who pretend now to be so steeped in civic values and discourse, could not undertake the main lesson in Civics 101: voting.
Selecting the men and women who will guide government has become easy enough for a chimp to be a regular voter. Those who aspire to a higher level, that is to politically lead the rest of us, must meet a higher threshold. Candidates must vote routinely and regularly. They must have a public track record that the rest of us can look at and understand their values and ideals. We have the right to know how a candidate would vote on the issues facing us. You and I may be able to opt out when Election Day is steeped in rain or heavy traffic, but we’re not asking taxpayers to provide us a salary and a high perch.
I’m going with our editorial on this topic. Shame on the candidates who were too disengaged in politics to even vote. Can I get a witness?